Swine-ing about nothing

This week the new swine flu shot is available for health care workers. For people on the front lines of what is likely to be an intense fall and winter of virus-laden illness, some people are happy for the quick availability of the vaccine, but others are chafing at the compulsory nature of the shots. I’ve seen no fewer than five articles just today on—

Excuse us, Mr. Maroon.

Yes? Who are you? I’m trying to blog here.

Hi, we’re the USDA.

Uh, hi. I need to get back to—

Yeah, um, about that blog thing you’re doing. We have a request.

Okay. What’s up?

We’d really like it if you and everyone else could please stop calling it the “swine flu.” It’s the H1N1 virus.

Well, I understand that’s the flu strain we’re talking about, but I think more people understand it as swine flu.

Sure, sure, maybe they do right now, but it’s really harming the pork industry right now.

The what?

The pork industry. People are afraid to eat pork. In these tough times, it’s making it tough for pig farmers.

I’m sorry, just so I get this straight: you, the USDA, want me and other bloggers to call it only the H1N1 virus?

That’s right.

But that actually communicates a lot less about the thing than “swine flu” does. Can you show me one pig farmer who’s gone out of business because of the phrase swine flu?

Well, no, but, that’s not the point.

But you said it was.

Well, see, it’s only part from a swine flu strain. There are also avian flu and human flu strains in the H1N1 virus.

I see.

It’s a lot more like the 1918 influenza than any swine flu.

Oh, so should we call it pandemic flu, then?

Well, no. That sounds—



Well, I’m glad we’re in agreement on that. But I have a question.


Didn’t this flu originate on a pig farm?

That’s not the point.

Oh. Not the point. I see. Okay, I’m lying, I don’t see why that’s not the point.

Because it’s not just swine flu.

Can I call it Swine Flu Plus? Or Swine Flu +?

Please don’t.

Okay, okay. I’ll call it H1N1, even though I have a right to free speech. Can I get back to blogging now?

Sure, sure. Thanks for your help.

Okay, bye.

Sheesh. Okay, so anyway, while some health care workers are complaining that they’re being required to receive this vaccine, even though there’s a long history of required vaccines out there, there is a point to be made about how the H1N1 flu vaccine was rushed to market. Of course it was rushed, having only come into existence last spring. Here in Washington State, our limits on the amount of mercury makers can put into a vaccine were suspended so that producers could get them out to the public in time for flu season. H1N1 was excepted from the limit even though the vaccine is recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. This must mean that the mercury in these shots knows not to wreak any of the havoc it normally would on fetuses and newborn children. I suppose, more seriously, that they think the risks of the disease are greater than the potential effects of mercury poison, but it calls into question for me what the calculus is for what must be a high-stakes cost/benefit analysis.

For our part as general citizenry, here in Walla Walla I now see antibacterial gel everywhere: next to cash registers, in the weight room at my gym, next to the shopping carts at the grocery store, even at the concessions counter of the cinema. We are a germ-killing, germ-fearing populace, all the while as we isolate and grow the strongest germs by using these products.

Walla Wallans consider themselves an enduring lot, and happily isolated from population centers. Perhaps this gives us a sense that swine flu won’t hit us here, but we forget the global nature of everything around us. Eighteen wheelers  roll into the city everyday, visitors from Seattle and Portland come out here on the weekends to taste our wine, and people fly out of here all the time to see that civilization that exists elsewhere, picking up who knows what along the way. Can’t there be a balance between vigilance of our health and hygiene, and ignorance of the genetic makeup of the H1N1 virus? Do we need to expose our children to mercury, obfuscate what to call this virus or that, turn away from vaccines altogether because a blog somewhere on the Web insists they cause autism? Where is the voice of reason in the midst of all these conflicting messages?

All that writing made me hungry. I’m gonna go grill up some pork chops.

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3 Comments on “Swine-ing about nothing”

  1. October 7, 2009 at 9:18 am #

    “Suspend all safety guidelines! We have to rush this vaccine out for public safety!”

    LOL. Something is rotten in the state of Washington.

  2. Karen Mc
    October 8, 2009 at 11:45 am #

    Ev, Thanks for the info about the mercury levels.
    Did you see the network story this week about the trouble that Southern farmers are having in eradicating pigweed from their soy and cotton fields? It has become so resistant to the commercial pesticides that in 3 weeks, it grows to the diameter of a baseball bat, and can stop a combine or harvester cold. The story showed farmers eradicating it by cutting from the ground by hand and there are some that are thinking that they should begin hiring now in case they have to harvest their cotton by hand. That would be bad enough, but imagine trying to harvest a soy bean crop by hand?

  3. evmaroon
    October 8, 2009 at 7:10 pm #

    No, I haven’t heard about pigweed, Karen. Sounds just awful. It would be more than ironic if all of the agribusiness’ meddling in crop production meant we all had to go back to 18th Century technology for planting and harvest.

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