Editorial: H1N1 flu doesn’t come from pork

Published 7:36 am Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The following Tribune editorial initially printed May 1, slightly modified here:

Let’s get something straight:

You can’t get swine flu from eating pork products.

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The term “swine flu” has to do with viral origination.

Viruses change, change, change and change again. It’s their nature. That’s why we have a different flu shot every year.

In fact, the swine flu in the news lately is thought to have mutated from a mix of influenza viruses found in pigs and in birds. It could be termed swine/avian flu.

It is believed the virus then changed again to a strain that makes people sick, but for simplification, the World Health Organization and U.S. agencies called it swine flu.

But it is a human virus. You catch it from other people who already have it, like any virus. All the pigs in the world could disappear tomorrow and the present swine flu still would exist. It is not being transmitted by swine.

So many people fail to understand that pork and this flu strain are not connected that, in deference to pork producers, U.S. and world agencies have begun calling it the H1N1 flu or Pandemic H1N1 2009.

Either way, the biggest thing to worry about is not catching it. The keys are the same as any flu: wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth with your arm or a tissue (not your hand) when you cough or sneeze, don’t rub your eyes or nose, get plenty of rest, drink water and stay home if you feel ill. Avoid obvious mistakes, such as: Don’t drink from the cup your kid just drank from.

Interestingly, the common flu strains people experience usually in the winter typically evolve on a bird-human route. (No, you don’t get the common flu from birds.) Sometimes, the strains strike harder than others. However, the more problematic strains evolve on bird-pig-human route.

Remember polio? One vaccine, and the entire virus is wiped out. If only influenza was that easy. It’s the constant mutations that make it so hard to fight.

And hard to understand.