NEWS
10/21/2011 12:14 EDT | Updated 12/21/2011 05:12 EST

What's in a name? Confusion, if you're talking about the pandemic flu virus

What's in a name? Well, if the name is attached to the virus responsible for the 2009 flu pandemic, a lot of confusion.

Swine flu. 2009 H1N1. Pandemic H1N1 or pH1N1 for short. The virus has been called a variety of things, most neither catchy nor clear.

Tumbling pork sales and angry reaction from pork producers early in the pandemic nixed swine flu. Pandemic H1N1 is now misleading, as the pandemic has been declared over and the virus is now considered one of the seasonal strains. Calling it 2009 H1N1 in 2011 — well, that just adds to the confusion.

So the World Health Organization has decided to clear up the chaos by issuing a new name for the virus.

From now on the virus formerly known as swine flu is to bear the tongue-twisting moniker A(H1N1)pdm09.

The new name and the rationale for changing it were published Friday in a WHO publication called Weekly Epidemiological Record.

The statement explained who came up with the new name — the committee of flu experts that advises WHO on what strains to include in flu shots — but it gave no indication of how or why they fixed on this particular name.

The letter A signifies that the virus is an influenza A virus and placing the strain name — H1N1 — in parenthesis is standard in official flu nomenclature. There was no explanation of pdm09, presumably short for pandemic 2009.

"This standardization will help to minimize confusion among the scientific community and the general public," the statement said.

It also noted the new name will help to differentiate the virus from the seasonal H1N1 viruses that circulated before the pandemic occurred. The old seasonal H1N1 viruses have disappeared since the A(H1N1)pdm09 pandemic.