Monday, 20 July 2009

A Swine of a Flu: epidemic, pandemic or endemic?

For these past couple of months not a single day has gone by without some mention or other of swine flu in the news. Alan Johnson, Britain’s Home Secretary went as far as to say that swine flu would be a greater threat to Britain than terrorism (The Daily Telegraph, 19 July 2009).

And not for a single day did I not ask myself who the smart alecs who had coined the term were. Why ‘swine’? Wouldn’t ‘porcine flu’ or plain ‘pig flu’ have been a better term? The Spanish called it ‘gripe porcina’, and the French, ‘la grippe porcine’. But the English had to be different, of course.

Porcine /ˈpɔ:sɒɪn/ means relating to pigs, or similar to a pig. Swine /swaɪn/, on the other hand, is an almost archaic word meaning a pig. It is also used informally (almost rudely) to mean an extremely unpleasant man, or something that is extremely unpleasant or annoying. So, swine flu, although technically correct, tends to leave a rather foul taste in my mouth.

Hand in hand with swine flu, you’ll undoubtedly read ‘pandemic’. Now, you might have asked yourself, ‘What happened to plain old epidemic?’ Well, there is actually a difference.

A pandemic disease is one which affects a large proportion of the population over a wide geographical area. Macmillan even defines it as ‘a disease that affects almost everyone in a very large area’.

“Ministers had accused the National Childbirth Trust of overreacting after it said that women should delay getting pregnant until the pandemic had passed.” The Times, 20 July 2009

An epidemic, however, is defined by Oxford as ‘a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time’.

In other words, a pandemic disease is an epidemic affecting many people over a wide geographical area, but an epidemic is not necessarily pandemic. HIV can be considered an epidemic, while the Black Death was a pandemic.

Then, there’s ‘endemic’, which refers to a disease which is almost constantly present in a given area, though usually at low levels. Malaria in parts of Africa can be considered an endemic disease.

Read more about swine flu in CDC or About.com.

4 comments:

  1. Here in the Philippines we call it A(H1N1) Influenza virus. The gov't stop using the word Swine Flu because it affected the sales of pork in the market. People thought it is cause by eating pork because of it's name.
    Same with other countries--many here are very alarmed and sometimes overreacting--it causes suspensions of classes of schools and sometimes offices too...even the congress session. People are now very cautious when somebody near them is sneezing or coughing. Many are now avoiding crowded places.
    Gov't Health dept adviced people to eat healthy food and have clean hands all the time to avoid getting sick/virus.
    Thanks for explaining the pandemic & epidemic. Hope and pray this pandemic will stop soon.
    http://relaby.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for your comment, Relaby. :)
    Yes, I'm sure the name has put a lot of people off eating pork. I see a lot of H1N1 being mentioned too, but that's a mouthful to say, though. Let's all hope this will soon disappear and prove to be a false alarm.

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