Swine Flu – Notes on a ‘Pandemic’

Posted by Cila Warncke

I find it very difficult to take seriously an alleged nationwide emergency that I find out about by reading the Guardian website. Surely if swine flu or influenza porcina as the locals call it, were a hovering shadow of death across the fair land of Mexico someone would have thought to mention it? It was Saturday I happened across the UK headlines. The first local clue anything was up was the bored-looking attendents wearing surgical masks (tapa bocas) while handing out leaflets at the coach station when I returned to Merida on Monday.

Awful, isn't it?

Awful, isn't it?

Yucatan is for all intents and purposes a separate country, and the only reaction here seems to be mild boredom. The schools are shut, a fair few of the businesses (presumably because someone has to be at home to mind the kids) and the morning tae-bo class at the local stadium has been called off. This means us runners can hang out at the edge of the track and talk without being blasted by pumped up mariachi music, which is kind of nice. Jaime, my 10K buddy, put things in perspective: “They’ve shut the restaurants in Mexico City, but not the Metro.”

When he said that my already limited interest in swine flu bottomed out. The Mexico City Metro is a cross between a batteryfarm and a sauna. It is one of the most horrible, germ-spewing environments I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. If they haven’t shut the damn thing down they clearly aren’t that bothered.

Mexico City is a teeming hellhole. A city of over 22M people set in a natural bowl so every particle of smog, filth and germs sinks into lungs and skin. The fact 150 people have died after having flu symptoms is nothing more than a statistical blip. If this flu were anything to worry about there would be a lot more than eight confirmed deaths. As for the people who’ve travelled in Mexico and taken the flu home? People get sick travelling. I had terrible respiratory illness within 72 hours of landing in Mexico City purely from the poison air.

The hysteria is a massive PR job on the part of the drug companies and the WHO (aka the OMS Organizicion Mundial de Salud). It’s a slow news week, someone felt the need to stir shit up and hey, bird flu was fun.

Not that this total nonsense doesn’t have its good side. My boyfriend is off work so we’ve had two days of painting his office, eating popcorn and watching DVDs (because the cinemas are all shut). Also, it prompted me to go and look up the defintion of “pandemic” — an unjustifiably abused word at the moment.

Medicine. Epidemic over a wide geographic area and affecting a large proportion of the population: pandemic influenza.

Wide geographic area? Possibly. But a large portion of the population? Hardly. According to The Economist there are 99 confirmed cases in Mexico, 91 in the US and 19 in Canada. The only other nation in double figures is Spain, with 10. I would love to hear the mathematical justification for construing those numbers as a pandemic.