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Crazy Pig Flu vs. Mexico City: Day 4

As we wrap up Day 4 of Crazy Pig Flu vs. Mexico City and beyond, all is still well here on the Southern front. I have essentially not left our apartment building since Friday night, not so much out of fear as a lack of anywhere to go. As per all of the news, much of Mexico City has been pretty quiet the last few days, with all public events, schools, movie theaters, and a number of restaurants shut down. John did go into work at the Embassy today, but even that was quieter than normal, with the consular section shut down for the week to avoid having ~1600 people a day waiting in close proximity to get a visa. He commented that among the general public, mask-wearing ranged from between 20-50%, frankly not as high as I expected.

OK, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but these tapabocas (aka face masks) that my husband got today from the Embassy are outrageous. My best analogy: blue post-it notes with dental floss ties. I reckon this prevents the intake of swine flu about as well as a lucha mask, which I may consider purchasing instead. You will note the pug is similarly displeased.

OK, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but these tapabocas (aka face masks) that my husband got today from the Embassy are outrageous. My best analogy: blue post-it notes with dental floss ties. I reckon this prevents the intake of swine flu about as well as a lucha mask, which I may consider purchasing instead. At least the lucha masks reflect the shape of my face; these masks seem to assume my face is two dimensional. You will note the pug is similarly displeased.

Things took a turn for the apocalyptic around noon today when we also got hit with an earthquake. A cool 5.6 on the ol’ Richter Scale, I was initially excited because this was the first earthquake I have actually *felt* during our time in Mexico. The neighborhood we live in is one of the more seismically stable, so until this AM I had been deprived of any earth-shaking excitement. Luckily, no injuries or damage have been reported from this one, so at least it shouldn’t ADD to the general level of panic. That said, I think it is safe to say that most of us are awaiting the plague of locusts or frogs dropping from the sky, just as a bit of icing on the cake to follow our trifecta of druglords, swine-flu, and terremotos.

The CDC announced tonight a recommendation to avoid all non-essential travel to Mexico. What was originally a Mexico City school closure through May 6th, has now become a country-wide closure of all schools. Starbucks has even closed 10 shops in Mexico City & reduced hours of operation of others. You know when even Starbucks is willing to forego a few bucks, things must be tense.

Despite all of these signs of doom, as my friend Joy pointed out, there is so much we don’t know. We keep hearing stats on number of “possible” flu cases in Mexico City & corresponding numbers of deaths that seem to be a disturbingly high percentage. However, few stats seem yet available on how many mild flu cases have been seen or how many cases & deaths are officially, 100% sure, from the swine flu (this A/H1N1 strain). Word this afternoon from the Embassy (working with the CDC who is visiting Mexico at present) was that only 26 cases have *officially* been diagnosed as this strain of swine flu and only 6 of those cases have died.  Another article in Reforma (MX City newspaper) tonite stated the number of reported cases have been falling over the past three days.  Argh. Trying to keep up with the stats in a situation like this seems like a lost cause.

 

Thus far, air travel in and out of Mexico has not been impacted. However, many of us here are suspicious as to how long of a reprieve we will have… (especially those of us heading to China on May 8th for her MBA interim trip!!)… The airport in Tokyo is “thermo-screening” arrivals from Mexico to try & detect high body temps. Anecdotal evidence from US airports shows them not even making a cursory glance at incoming passengers as of today. Where is a good middle ground? Does closing borders/airports really help in a situation like this? Arguably no. But realistic assessments can hardly stand in the way of a media stampede over the cliff of reason, eh?
Speaking of over the cliff of reason, I want to let any fans of Jackie, George and Herman know that we are taking excellent care of them, taking every precaution to hide them from the pig-haters that seem to be lurking around every corner these days. (Well, at least Jackie and Herman are protected.) Overprotective, you ask skeptically? Um, hello people, it's called SWINE flu. Who do you think are its most likely victims?? (Note poignantly-titled sheet music book resting above the little dears on our piano.)

Speaking of over the cliff of reason, I want to let any fans of Jackie, George and Herman know that we are taking excellent care of them, taking every precaution to hide them from the pig-haters that seem to be lurking around every corner these days. (Well, at least Jackie and Herman are protected.) Overprotective, you ask skeptically? Um, hello people, it's called SWINE flu. Who do you think are its most likely victims?? (Note poignantly-titled sheet music book resting above the little dears on our piano.)

From a personal perspective, I am more sad than scared at this point, since most of what we’ve heard about this particular influenza strain is that it responds to prompt treatment from drugs like Tamiflu (of which we are assured there is plenty here in Mexico City). The difference in mortality rates between the US and Mexico cases is certainly concerning & curious, but also not inconceivable when one considers the disposable income that your average Mexican has to spend on health care, whether they would choose to spend it on an immediate doctor’s visit based on fairly unremarkable initial symptoms of fever/coughing/lethargy, and how that delay in diagnosis might negatively impact them when it turns out they have a strain of the crazy pig flu. Obviously after the shit-storm of media coverage, me and every other chilango here in D.F. will be sucking down Tamiflu ASAP if we have symptoms even remotely akin to those!

 

At this point, I am more depressed on behalf of Mexico, who needed this media blitz like a hole in the head after months of totally unbiased (ha) “Everyone’s being killed by narcos” coverage. Even if this influenza epidemic dies down over the next week, I fear it will still take a considerable toll on tourism throughout Mexico, since it is not as easy to draw a map showing where viruses don’t do business. Just within Mexico City, the number of businesses on lock-down + the number of parents who can’t go to work (because their children are home from school) will have a crippling economic effect if it continues long term.

To those of you potential travelers with trips coming up this summer, please don’t start making any cancellations yet!! I believe we’ll know a lot more by the end of this week as to whether this will wither out or continue to ramp into pandemic proportions. While obviously I agree with avoiding travel over the next couple weeks, it is hard to make any accurate forecasts beyond that & the CDC/Mexico government needs a few days to sort out the facts from the furor.

Anyway, that is the latest from the new “ground zero”. I will likely venture out of the house tomorrow to purchase groceries for an impromptu birthday-dinner we will host on Wednesday for a fellow “inmate” in our apartment building. This asssuming a) the grocery stores are open, and b) I find a face mask with more protection than blue tissue paper. Over and out from the hot zone!!
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10 Comments on “Crazy Pig Flu vs. Mexico City: Day 4”

  1. #1 Joy
    on Apr 28th, 2009 at 8:02 am

    I absolutely agree with you on the more sad than scared notion. Last night I was feeling that way — depressed. This is a depressing situation above all else.

  2. #2 Sasha
    on Apr 28th, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Oh man your China trip! I think one of the reasons this scene here is so depressing is we don’t know when it ends. Also, tapabocas fog up my glasses.

  3. #3 Emma C
    on Apr 28th, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    I was away last weekend and didn’t hear about any of this until Sunday, when the media-scares where beginning to take hold. Its nice to get a true perspective on whats going on. Hopefully things will improve…and soon.

  4. #4 Keith
    on Apr 28th, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Hi Julie,
    Would you mind if I put some of your posts, with full credit and blog links, on my Swine Flu Blog? I’m trying to throw it together and I’m trying to get some real news from people on the ground in Mexico. You look like a great source. Please email me at keith@keithsswineflu.com .

    Thank you,
    Keith

  5. #5 melissa
    on Apr 28th, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    by the way… Tamiflu isn’t easy to find. Yeah, we’re caught up in the craze too, here in Guadalajara. No farmacia has it, or has any clue about it. If this were really a pandemic, wouldn’t they be a little more prepared?

  6. #6 Greg H
    on Apr 28th, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Having just gotten back from Japan, I didn’t notice any more face masks than normal looks like 5-10% of the population(apparently pollen is high this time of year). I did also read about the thermal scanning in the Japan airport – good thing I didn’t break too much of a sweat running across the terminal for my connection. They don’t let people go for 2-3 days until they can confirm the diagnosis. Your 2D facemask comments remind me of the old Schick Tracer commercials: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KUT1It-Bo8 Hilarious!

  7. #7 Paul Roberts
    on Apr 28th, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    The link below is one of the best and sanest articles on the swine flu that I have come across.

    http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2009/04/flu-fears.html

    It makes a key argument that:

    “A point repeatedly emphasized to the media yesterday by Dr. Anne Schuchat, Director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, was that they couldn’t credibly say the cases being identified in the laboratory are indicative of a new situation. Cases identified with increased surveillance is not the same thing as actual increased incidents.”

    As someone living in Mexico, though not in DF, I found the article very reassuring. It also says that those blue face masks serve no purpose, apart from making the situation seem more scary. Washing hands regularly and not picking your nose seems to be the best strategy.

  8. #8 Julie
    on Apr 28th, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    Keith– certainly, feel free to link; thanks for asking!
    Melissa– yeah, the lack of generally-available face masks or drugs seems a bit concerning….
    Greg– yeah, I’m getting a little worried about whether China will take action as well. Japan also just instituted a new visa requirement for Mexicans traveling there…not good.
    Paul– thanks for the excellent link. I concur with the suspicions re. the blue face masks. We wore them out & about tonite, but they felt largely decorative…

  9. #9 refried dreamer
    on Apr 29th, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    okay, so my mom is a hypochondriac and happened to run into a guy flown in from Mexico City. (she’s in the States) He said the Mexican gov. is hiding the truth. Over 1000 people have died in D.F … blah blah. What has the consulate been telling you guys? please divulge… it would appease my mother… and my ear.

  10. #10 Julie
    on Apr 29th, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Hey Melissa!
    So acc. to my contacts, there have been no secret 1000 deaths unless the govn’t has also managed to hide it from the CDC, who is here now. To be honest, we haven’t gotten many insider insights from the embassy; what they’ve sent to us is the same stuff they’ve posted on their site. (check out the warden messages at http://www.usembassy-mexico.gov/eng/citizen_services.html) Will keep you posted though!!

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