The World Health Organisation announced tonight that it would no longer use the phrase “swine flu” to describe the virus which has infected eight patients in Britain and is believed to have killed more than 150 people around the world.
In a bid to curtail the link with pigs and pork, the UN agency said it would now use the technical name: H1N1 influenza A.
Washington has already refrained from using the term swine flu as the Obama Administration tries to insulate the nation’s pig farmers from export bans and a downturn in sales prompted by fears of spreading the virus
Farmers in the US, Mexico and Canada have already suffered bans on pigs and pork imported by several countries including Russia and China. Egypt has even begun culling tens of thousands of pigs, although officials said it was a general health measure rather than a precaution against the virus.
Margaret Chan, WHO Director General, said: “Pork can be eaten safely if cooked properly. There’s no reason why people who love to eat pork should stop eating now: please continue, with due precautions and cook it well.”
Three new cases of swine flu were confirmed in Britain today while the Republic of Ireland announced its first confirmed case this evening. All nine had recently returned home from Mexico.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “There have been three more confirmed cases of swine flu in the UK – two in London and one in the North East. There are now eight confirmed cases in the UK – six in England, and two in Scotland.
“The preparations we have in place and are continuing to make will help to ensure we respond well in the event of a pandemic.”
The Health Protection Agency said all three people “have mild symptoms and are responding to treatment at home”.
Britain’s first known cases were a Scottish couple, Iain and Dawn Askham, who developed flu symptoms last week after returning from their honeymoon in Mexico, where officials say more than 150 people have been killed by the virus.
Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, said today that the Askhams had been released from hospital in Lanarkshire and are “very well”.
The UK cases also include a 12-year-old girl, Amy Whitehouse, who travelled home from an Easter holiday in Mexico on the same plane as the Askhams. More than 300 pupils in staff at the girl’s school in Paignton, Devon, have been given anti-viral drugs to protect against an outbreak and the school closed for a week.
The HPA says all eight cases in the UK are “associated with travel to Mexico”, suggesting that there is as yet no community-level transmission of the virus.
The WHO has not yet recommended any global travel restrictions on people or goods and chose not to raise the threat level today after it was upgraded to the second-highest level of alert last night.
The United Nations, however, has issued instructions to staff advising against all non-essential travel to the affected areas.
Tonight there were 2,955 suspected and 99 confirmed cases in Mexico. Elsewhere there were 124 confirmed cases in the US, 19 in Canada, 13 in Spain, three in Germany and in New Zealand, two in Israel and one each in Japan, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands.
Despite the spread of the virus through America, the Obama Administration has reaffirmed its commitment to keep the border with Mexico open.
Joe Biden said it would be “a monumental undertaking” with limited benefit. The Vice President’s office was forced to clarify earlier remarks after Mr Biden admitted that he had warned his family not to use public transport.
“I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” he told NBC. “It’s not that it’s going to Mexico, it’s that you’re in a confined aircraft. When one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft.
“I would not be at this point, if they had another way of transportation, (be) suggesting they ride the subway.”
The comments drew dismayed responses from the US Travel Association and the airline industry and Mr Biden’s office later tried to downplay his comments by saying he was referring only to an Administration warning against non-essential travel to Mexico.