Israel renames unkosher swine flu

Tel Aviv, Israel - Israeli Health Minister Yakov Litzman has been updating a nervous public on the swine flu epidemic - and he started by renaming it for religious reasons.

"We will call it Mexican flu. We won't call it swine flu," said Mr Litzman, who belongs to the ultra-religious United Torah Judaism party.

Pigs are considered unclean under Jewish dietary laws. Muslims also do not eat pork for similar reasons.

Israel has yet to confirm a case of the flu which has claimed 100 lives.

Mr Litzman said there was no indication the virus had reached Israel, but precautionary measures and monitoring wwer required because of the heavy air traffic between Israel and the US, which has a number of confirmed cases.

Religiously sensitive

Yakov Litzman serves as deputy health minister in the recently-formed government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took the position of health minister himself.

Mr Litzman is one of eight ultra-Orthodox Jewish ministers and deputy ministers in Mr Netanyahu's administration.

Correspondents in Israel say scientists are concerned the new religiously sensitive name could could be seen as stigmatising Mexico.

The North American country has had the most cases of swine flu, but it is not necessarily where the disease first emerged.

Swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by a type of influenza which usually infects pigs.

Until now it has not normally infected humans, but the latest form clearly does, and can be spread from person to person - probably through coughing and sneezing.

There is no evidence that it can be transmitted through eating meat from infected pigs.