a flu by any other name … and lessons in communication

what a week it has been.  ‘swine flu’ got officially renamed as A/’H1N1′ after reports that the pork industry was being unfairly affected by mistaken association. 

here is what i dont get.  every year when hurricane season comes around the US, anyone with a common angl0-saxon first name is at risk of being associated with a potentially destructive hurricane.  which industry group is out there to protect the atlantic coast arthurs, berthas, dollys from 2002, the noels, olgas, pablos and wendys from 2007?  or, the pacific facing johns, pauls and rosas from 2006?  and there is the (in)famous katrina.

last that i checked katrina did not have anything to do with the death and destruction wrought by nature.  however, the cdc itself has noted that the swine flu is ‘a respiratory disease of pigs’ … check this out

no one seems to know what has caused a pocrine disease to jump to homo sapiens, but wont it be prudent to educate the world’s population on the linkage with pigs … and somehow minimize contact?  ‘swine flu’ is a lot easier than “A/H1N1” … to convey to billions the linkage between pigs and the flu.  millions could be less literate + more vulnerable to communicable diseases due to poorer living conditions.  what better way to minimize and mitigate the risk than saying it as it is?!

none less than the cdc says “Most commonly, these cases occur in persons with direct exposure to pigs (e.g. children near pigs at a fair or workers in the swine industry).” (source: http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/key_facts.htm)

3 obviousideas

1. communication intent: let us keep in mind the primary intent behind any communication and ensure that we are aligned with that interest.  for instance, if there is a chance that reducing direct contact with pigs can reduce the risk of contracting and spreading this disease, they say it as it is! 

2. clarity and conveyability: these are critical elements to ensure that the message reaches the audience and elicits the kind of response sought.  A/H1N1 surely fails the test of clarity and conveyability.  add ‘influenza’ as a prefix and your audience becomes even smaller. 

3. collateral damage: any communication carries the risk of collateral damage of unintended consequences.  question is, would you rather suffer collateral damage or core damage?  let us recognize collateral damage and minimize it, but not over-react to the point of changing the message itself and losing communication intent, clarity and conveyability.  if the katrinas of the world can live with a sad and deadly association, i am sure the world community of pigs will be ok.


  1. Hi, cool post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for posting. I’ll definitely be subscribing to your posts. Keep up the good posts

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