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Is swine flu a pig in a poke?

Why do they call it swine flu? I understand you can't get it from eating pork or hanging around with pigs. While you're at it, what the heck is a pig in a poke? I'm puzzled.

— Pat E., Yreka

We will give you the skinny on the fat, Pat, although somewhere in our misplaced SYA code book, it is written that it is illegal to ask two questions.

Let's catch the flu first, so to speak.

The illness is no longer, at least officially, known as swine flu. It seems the pork industry was sizzling mad over the name. An SYA staffer who raised 4-H hogs suspects the swine weren't too crazy about it, either.

The bug now is known as the novel pandemic H1N1 influenza-A virus by the folks in the white overcoats at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The "H" and "N" refer to the proteins on the virus, they explain.

Swine flu originally started with pigs, then mutated to be passed on to humans and caused the pandemic of 1918. The H1N1, which popped up in Mexico last April, actually is a combination of human, swine and bird influenza viruses.

The long-awaited first vaccinations against it are expected to be available in some parts of the country beginning next week. Oregon may receive shipments beginning on Monday, according to Dr. Mel Kohn, the state's public health director.

As for the pig-in-a-poke, it stems from the Middle Ages when pork and other edible meats were rare items found on the dinner table.

If you bought what was supposed to be a suckling pig in a bag — known as a poke back in the day — and it turned out to be a cat, you were had by a confidence trick.

In other words, to buy a pig-in-a-poke sight unseen is risky business, Pat.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.