Because no swine in the United States have been infected with the new hybrid flu virus, it’s time to stop calling it “swine flu,” urges U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“This really isn’t swine flu,” he says. “It’s H1N1 virus. That’s very, very important. And it is significant, because there are a lot of hardworking families whose livelihood depends on us conveying this message of safety.

“I want to reiterate that U.S. pork is safe,” Vilsack says. “While we in the United States are continuing to monitor for new cases of H1N1 flu, the American food supply is safe.”

“What we call this flu is important,” adds Chris Novak, chief executive officer of the National Pork Board, which has just joined USDA and others in calling the influenza outbreak the H1N1 flu. “Consumers and our international customers need to be assured that pork is safe and will continue to be safe to consume. Calling this swine flu has the potential to cause confusion. There simply is no reason for anyone to be concerned about the safety of eating pork.”

The World Health Organization has also recommended renaming the influenza virus because it contains avian and human components and no pig has been found ill with the H1N1 virus.

“The virus has not been isolated in animals to date. Therefore, it is not justified to name this disease swine influenza,” the Paris-based group said in a statement.

The reason the H1N1 virus is being called “swine flu” is because of the 1918 outbreak in Spain, according to Peter Cowen, associate professor of epidemiology and public health at North Carolina State University. That virus became known as swine influenza because it caused significant mortality in both pigs and people.

Cowen notes it appears that people who have contracted the novel H1N1 virus have had no contact with swine.

Another reason for calling this virus swine flu is due to the fact that some of the genetic analysis indicates that elements from viruses traditionally found in swine populations are incorporated.

“However, since we know nothing of how this virus has gotten into the human population, and there apparently is no history of swine exposure, it probably makes more sense epidemiologically to refer to this simply as an H1N1 virus,” he says.