Tag Archives: swine flu

What's in a name? Swine flu vs. H1N1

Interesting conversation this morning with a public affairs professional working with the pork industry–a follow up to our PRSA teleseminar on flu communications. We were discussing the naming of this outbreak the “swine flu” and how that has impacted the pork industry.

As I commented earlier in this blog, I was amazed at how effective the pork industry was at getting the name changed to H1N1, but then the change seemed to peter out. Organizations like WHO and CDC announced they would no longer refer to it as the swine flu and it really started to take effect. But the change didn’t last and it appears now that swine flu has pretty well won out for the long term–much to the consternation of the industry.

How did this happen. My comment was that while I think the pork industry was remarkably effective at first in getting the change started, it lost momentum. My guess is that the media including social media commenters were participating in the change but found their audiences preferred use of swine flu. Plus, frankly H1N1 doesn’t roll off the tongue or keyboard nearly as easily as swine flu. (Plus you can’t make jokes about pigs flying with H1N1). I related it to a ball game with momentum shifts. The momentum was against the industry with the early moniker, but they made a heavy and effective push and got momentum going in the other direction. But I sense they underestimated the challenges and even if they didn’t let up, they didn’t have the reserve power to maintain the momentum in a critical few days about a week ago. If they had had the resources to steadily mount an attack on the name whereever its use occurred I think the media and public would be referring to this consistently as H1N1 (not too sure about the “novel” part–sounds too scientific).

Brings us to the long term issue of flu pandemic naming. The 1918 pandemic was the Spanish flu. This could have been called the Mexican flu but I suspect Mexico would have been as unhappy as the swine industry. What will the next one be called? The apricot flu? The mere mention of that might cause me to get unhappy emails from the apricot industry? How about the teletubby flu? Or the Hollywood flu?

I hope that the major health organizations have a discussion about this. I suspect they already are. Unless they come up with some innocuous naming system (like used for Hurricanes–although all females named Katrina might object) but one that works with the media and the public much better than H1N1 or H52N98, I suspect every outbreak is going to have similar naming issues. Funny thing to think about branding pandemics–but just ask the pork industry how important it is to get it right.

Swine Flu–now it gets serious

As I write this, Mexico has just announced 149 deaths to swine flu. And, a few minutes ago, that city was rocked by a 6.0 earthquake. 40 cases of swine flu now reported in US. World Heath Organization on brink of declaring a pandemic, elevating the status to 4 or 5. Travel advisories going out.

And I’m trying to write a new presentation for the emergency management group of one very large federal agency on the importance of Virtual Joint Information Centers .

Social media is absolutely abuzz with talk of swine flu. Here are a few resources that I am using to track and you might find useful as well:


gizmodo–map showing new cases (actually using google map tracking service)



Some good advice from a communications professional: BrianMcDaniel

Now a word about Virtual JICs:

A JIC is a Joint Information Center. The MANDATORY (under National Incident Management System) assemblage of Public Information Officers from responding agencies to gather in a physical location to work together to communicate about the response. So if the event is a pandemic, the communicators are ordered to get together in a room so they can get the message out to everyone else to not do as they are doing. Sorry, doesn’t make sense to me. Especially since it has been very well established in major events including Hurricane Katrina that a dispersed communication team can operate very effectively using appropriate web technology. What is appropriate web technology? Go here.