Because I’m a Mexican living in the US, many concerned, thoughtful people have asked my opinion about the swine flu and the general situation in Mexico City. I thought I’d share with you some flu related data I’ve been collecting. I am no expert, but tend to favor facts, particularly those which contribute to a general sense of perspective (as opposed to drama and speculation, which contributes to a general sense of confusion and chaos.)
The flu virus (not swine flu, just flu) mutates to a worldwide epidemic two times every 100 years. In other words, we are not dealing with anything we have never seen before.
Based on existing data, this is not a superbug. This new strain of "swine" flu is not any more virulent, contagious, or deadly than other forms of the flu, and the forms of contagion are just like regular flu (wash your hands.)
In a normal flu season, children, elderly and ill people die from the flu. In fact, 36,000 people die from it in the US every year. 13,000 people have died of normal flu in this country since January, 2009. Not swine flu. Just flu.
In the US, symptoms of swine flu have been mostly mild. In Mexico, swine flu has not been mild, at least not in every case. My personal opinion -my personal inexpert opinion - is that poverty might be a factor. People living in close quarters, undernourished, who have no way to get to doctors or hospitals, who can't afford healthcare or even taking time off to recover.
Here is a good time to add, in the interest of sharing honest, unbiased data, that other pandemic flus strike young, healthy people the hardest. In light of this, wouldn’t it help tremendously to know how many mild cases of swine flu Mexico has had? Just so we’re not feeling that everyone who has gotten it South of the border has died from it (which would be inaccurate?)
I realize influenza is never to be taken lightly. I worry more, however, about the extreme measures the Mexican government has taken. All public places have been closed (I tweeted about soccer games with no audience allowed, a mark of a crisis in a futbol loving country.) Bars, schools (and universities – nation wide), movie theaters, galleries, sporting events have been shut down. A friend said that just walking down a half empty street fills you with an apocalyptical sense of doom.
I am lucky not be in a position where I have to make these types of decisions. From my cushy seat, I think these measures have been over the top.
More concerning of all is that the Mexican government has "given itself power" to search private homes for sick people, intercept them on streets, and force them to get treatment. How would you like it if a government with an iffy reputation could search your home at any time without any kind of warrant? Don’t you think this lends itself to all kinds of abuse?
Fears of abuse aside, I think measures this extreme cause a great deal of panic, and panic contributes to aggravating the situation. Just one example is it leads people to take medicine they don't need, which in turn makes the virus resistant to it. (Speaking of facts, there is no lack of medication - the vaccine industry is strong.)
To answer your (deeply, deeply appreciated) most common question, my family is, thankfully, safe. Up until today, I am not any more worried about swine flu than I am about normal flu. I don’t entirely agree with how the Mexican government has handled it. And I’ll be very happy when this is all over and people can travel to my country again, because Mexico is going through a terrible, scary, disconcerting, awful time (difficult economic conditions + virus + earthquake) and needs all the help it can get. I’ve booked a trip to Mexico for my next vacation, and I hope you do the same.
Photo: flu virus, www.nationalgeographic.com