Disease Vectors (Updated)

I don’t know where the strain of swine flu that’s killed 20 or 80 or 100 people (depending on the source you read) in Mexico came from:

MEXICO CITY, April 26 (Reuters) – One of the world’s biggest cities slowed to a snail’s pace on Sunday as millions in the Mexican capital hid indoors to avoid infection from a flu virus that has killed up to 81 people.

The Roman Catholic faithful listened to mass on the radio rather than go to church, a professional soccer game was played in an empty stadium and weekend cyclists stayed off the road in the normally chaotic city of 20 million people.

“This is the first time I’ve left the house in two days. I had to get some air,” said Juan Casiano, a 39-year-old office worker, as he walked through a park in the Polanco neighborhood. “But I’m going to stay the rest of the day inside.”

Fears of a global swine flu epidemic grew with 20 cases in the United States and six in Canada, and possible infections also popped up in Europe and New Zealand.

All the deaths from the new flu so far have been in Mexico, mostly in and around the capital, one of Latin America’s most important centers of business, government, culture and tourism.

and neither does anybody else. It’s certainly causing a substantial level of panic in Mexico. Are the Mexicans right to be so concerned? Again, I have no idea. I don’t know how many deaths there have been, whether the deaths are actually the result of swine flu, nor what the risks are. I do think it’s interesting that in Mexico young adults appear to be the most at risk:

The question of who contracts and ultimately dies from this virus has become a matter of central concern in Mexico. And the answers that are beginning to emerge as the death toll rises have been ominous. Relatively young adults, presumably among the population’s most healthy, have been the first to succumb. Sunday afternoon, Mexico placed the death toll at 86, and a Health Ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said all the dead were ages 25 to 50. The ministry later raised the toll to 103.

Fifteen people in Mexico City who are suspected to have died from the virus were 25 to 37 years old, Ebrard said in a radio interview Sunday.

The high proportion of young adults among the fatalities is one of several mysteries about this virus. The same pattern emerged during the 1918-1919 Spanish influenza epidemic, which killed at least 50 million people, and it remains unexplained in that case as well.

while here in the United States the elderly seem to be more at risk. An adaptable disease, indeed.

I think there’s a noteworthy connection between some recent reactions to the situation and the book given by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to President Obama last week, The Open Veins of Latin America. Some Latin American politicians are eager to blame any given problem on the United States and swine flu is no exception. The usual suspects in the United States are equally eager to seize on unsubstantiated claims by Latin American politicians to blame American businesses. As best as I can tell from the data available at this point the strongest connection is that the disease is called “swine flu” and pig farms have pigs on them.

The U. S. government is doing its part as the sense of concern rises by stoking the panic. It’s declared a national health emergency:

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States has declared a public health emergency as officials confirmed 20 cases of swine flu in five US states and warned that they expected more in the coming days.

President Barack Obama is monitoring the spreading virus and has reviewed US capabilities to counter the deadly flu outbreak, which has killed more than 103 people in Mexico, White House homeland security advisor John Brennan told reporters.

Obama has ordered a “very active, aggressive, and coordinated response,” Brennan said.

Richard Besser, the acting head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a White House press conference that there were eight confirmed US cases in New York City, seven in California, two in Texas, two in Kansas and one in Ohio.

“As we look for cases of swine flu, we are seeing more cases of swine flu. We expect to see more cases of swine flu,” said Besser.

“We’re responding aggressively to try and learn more about this outbreak” and to implement measures to control its spread, he added.

I understand why they’re doing this. There are two reasons. First, they’re covering their rear ends and, second, announcing the emergency gives local officials access to federal aid. It’s a legal requirement. Nonetheless, I think that a less hamhanded way of doing it needs to be found.

Without knowing the baseline I can’t tell if we’re experiencing an outbreak of the swine flu here in the U. S. or not. Without knowing the accuracy of the Mexican diagnoses I can’t tell if Mexico is experiencing an outbreak or not. I don’t know how concerned we should be or whether we should be concerned at all.

We don’t understand the vectors of this disease very clearly. However, the vectors of panic are understood pretty well. They are fear, ignorance, greed, and the lust for power or vengeance for wrongs real or imagined.


Justin Gardner posts in a similar vein:

No one knows how serious this strain of flu is and there’s no understanding yet as to why there have been so many deaths in Mexico while all those infected in the U.S. have recovered. But we can’t just concern ourselves with the potential for catastrophic deaths, we must also concern ourselves with the potential for panic.

God send a cure! The disease is already here.

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