By Allan Wall
May 25, 2009
It’s commonly referred to as the “Swine Flu”, and in some circles as the “Mexican Flu” due to its outbreak in Mexico. Clinically it’s known as the Influenza A Virus Subtype AH1N1
you call it, it’s still spreading worldwide. Besides the threat
to public health, H1N1 raises a number of cultural, political and diplomatic
Will Swine Flu become a “pandemic” (an out of control international epidemic), like the Spanish Influenza back in 1918, which killed 50 million people? Or is the threat exaggerated?
In Mexico, the widespread shutdown of schools and businesses has ended, but H1N1 continues to spread in various regions of the country.
As of May 24th, 2009, the influenza had infected over 12,000 people worldwide and killed at least 86. In Mexico over 4,000 have been infected and at least 80 have died. In the U.S. more people have been infected (over 6,500) but fewer (10) have died. In Canada, the influenza has infected 805 and claimed one life, while in the Central American nation of Costa Rica, at least 28 have been infected and one has died. The epidemic has reached at least 50 countries , and possibly 58.
It’s still unclear whether this influenza strain is worse than the usual such epidemics, which are caught by 5-15% of the world’s population and kill 250,000 to 500,000 people annually.
There have been devastating flu outbreaks in the past century. Besides the 1918 outbreak (mentioned above), there was the Asian Flu (1957) that killed 2 million and the Hong Kong Flu (1968-1969) which killed a million.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned enough to raise its warning level to Phase Five (with six being the highest).
There has also been a lot of complaining by the Mexican government about “discrimination” by other countries.
After the initial outbreak in Mexico became known, a number of Latin American countries responded rapidly.
Chile refused to allow two Mexican soccer teams to compete in its territory. Argentina, Ecuador, Peru and Cuba suspended flights from Mexico for a time.
Three hundred Mexican medical students in Cuba were quarantined for over three weeks.
In China, meanwhile, scores of Mexicans (and 29 Canadians) were detained. Mexico sent a plane across the Pacific which picked up 71 Mexicans and brought them home.
Sovereign nations still have the right, indeed the responsibility to protect their citizens. In cases of fast-moving diseases in a globalized world, quick action, including quarantines, may be necessary.
In the case of Chile and Argentina, those countries are in the southern hemisphere where winter is approaching. That means their own flu season is about to begin. Therefore the Chilean and Argentine governments were especially concerned about the flu emanating from Mexico.
Mexican screenwriter/director Carlos Cuaron complained that, while traveling in the U.S. to promote a movie, an airport official wouldn’t touch his Mexican passport and he had to open it himself! Imagine that! What an injustice!
Considering that people are actually dying of Swine Flu, to hear Cuaron play the martyr over having to open his own passport makes him sound like, well, like an elitist moviemaker!
Several years ago during the SARS outbreak, the positions of Mexico and China were reversed. Mexico was strictly controlling the entrance of Chinese nationals to Mexico. El Universal, Mexico’s paper of record, actually reported that there was fear in Mexico’s Chinatown about a backlash.
Turning down the rhetoric might be helpful.
Even during tragedies and tough times, ordinary Mexicans maintain a sense of humor. It’s not suprising therefore, that I've received several anonymous emails circulating in Mexican cyber-space that deal with H1N1.
One such circular email shows the “New Mexican Coat of Arms” in which the eagle sports a surgical mask, such as many Mexicans have donned recently.
Others play off the “swine flu” association. “Porky Y Sus Amigos” (Porky and his Friends) portrays Warner Brothers cartoon characters (Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, etc), all of whom (with the exception of Porky Pig) sport a surgical mask.
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Another email is a photograph of a desk. At one end are Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and friends, all of whom have on surgical masks. At the other end is Piglet, who is tied up.
Pray that the world’s medical personnel will get to this out and save as many H1N1 sufferers as possible.
� 2009 Allan Wall - All Rights Reserved
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Allan Wall recently returned to the U.S. after residing many years in Mexico.