The European Commission today indicated that the deadly swine flu had spread to works of fiction, prompting panic measures to shut down bookshops and libraries.

Some authors, too, were put under isolation in order to contain a potential epidemic being passed on.

A spokeswoman for the commission said the condition should now be known as the 'novel flu virus'.

This was, she said, "to avoid misunderstandings" that led to worldwide consumer and stock market panic that 'swine flu' would blight the pork industry.

However the comments instead sent shares in major book retailers crashing, while people known to be avid readers reported being treated with even greater suspicion than usual.

Health authorities put up exclusion zones around branches of Waterstones, while certain governments issued advice to only take "essential reading" of the extended narrative form, made popular in the 19th century.

Online booksellers recorded a peak in poetry and non-fiction sales, as wary shoppers sought alternatives to the blighted genre.

The misunderstanding prompted an urgent statement from EU health commissioner Androulla Vassiliou many hours later, reassuring that novels were "perfectly safe."

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