Don't Kiss Me, You Swine
As globalisation gives us its latest flu pandemic, panic sets in.
Firstly, 'swine flu' is a misnomer
as no pigs have been found with swine flu (H1N1) - only humans
Government officials in Thailand, one of the world’s largest meat exporters, have started referring to the disease as 'Mexican flu
' which is also probably incorrect given that the new virus has not yet been isolated in samples taken from pigs in Mexico or elsewhere.Egypt has ordered
that all 300,000 pigs in the country be slaughtered even though there hasn't been a single case of swine flu there.
Even though pigs aren't the carriers of swine fever, pig imports are now prohibited in many countries,Britain, with only five cases, is trying to buy 32 million masks
and elsewhere aptly named hawkers sell face masks
, ineffective to stop minuscule microbes of the H1N1 virus getting into one's nasal passages, presumably to prevent spitting on sidewalks.
Kissing, even cheek rubbing, has been banned in Arabic countries where munching on pork is rare. (Note: well-cooked meat is safe, but if you're really worried, vegetarianism is safer*.)Send in the clownsAn Israeli deputy health minister - an ultra-Orthodox Jew - said his country would use the term 'Mexican flu', to keep Jews from having to say the word 'swine.'
Here, the gaffe-prone Minister of Health
, Siti Fadilah Supari, has downplayed the danger of a potential swine flu pandemic saying that the H5N1 type A influenza virus, better known as avian flu, has a fatality rate of 80 percent is more dangerous than the H1N1 type A influenza virus which has a fatality rate of about 6 percent
Pigs aren't as unclean as various religions seem to think they are and it's worth bearing in mind that humans are much better at spreading diseases through living in insanitary conditions, through adding umpteen pollutants to the environment, and through exchanging body fluids.
Remember, coughs, kisses and sneezes spread umpteen diseases.
However, one may wonder if charity organisers will continue to hold Kiss The Pig
events.Out of some creative mind, the Kiss the Pig fundraiser was born. We don’t know how or where, but we do know that lots of groups have adopted this crazy fundraiser.
Could it have been me? The following is a personal anecdote, one which may well have entered official Australian ethno-studies of alien cultures.
Back in 1992, Son No.1 and I underwent a jungle trek on Siberut Island. I published an account here
. At the time, I elected to leave an incident which I was responsible for unsaid.
Our group were guests at the initiation of a shaman, an honour we respected. At the time, there were a number of other trek groups on the island, none of which had received an invitation. Whilst we were witnessing this rare event, we heard one of these groups approaching and could catch the glint of flashlights through the foliage as well as the group's loudness.
Suspended at each side of the portal were two slaughtered pigs, to be distributed later, cooked, to the visiting shamen from other villages.
I suggested to our guide, Tonik, that he should suggest to our village headman that these newcomers should undergo an initiation as a mark of respect - perhaps they could kiss the pigs as they entered.
This was greeted with glee by our Mentawai hosts, and so we all watched enraptured as the newcomers did as they were asked.
After their thankfully brief visit, I discovered that they were a group of school teachers, all members of the Australian Geographical Society.
I've often wondered if they ever published an account of their cultural visit. Of such occasions, myths are born.
1. Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the Health Ministry's director general for disease control and environmental health, answers some FAQ here.
2. Bad science debunker Ben Goldacre on the boy who cried wolf.
3. Ben Goldacre, again, on oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) - they may work.
4. The true cost of eating meat
Like BSE, avian flu, foot and mouth disease, and a dioxin scandal that partly influenced the outcome of a Belgian general election in 1999, we're again witnessing a crisis that affects the meat industry.
5. In 1918/19, Spanish Flu claimed up to 70 million lives around the world until it finally, unexpectedly, disappeared in 1919. In this the virus claimed far more lives than World War 1.