Living in times of Influenza: A Perspective from Mexico

From Red Cross Chatimage

Photo: Georgina Pérez receives a medical check-up at a Mexican Red Cross Hospital to determine if she has the swine (H1N1) flu. Tests later showed she was not infected with the virus. Photo Credit: Jose Manuel Jiménez/IFRC

Gavin White is an American Red Cross delegate working from Mexico City and specializing in disaster management. His ongoing role involves supporting the Mexican Red Cross in capacity-building and coordination activities before, during and after natural disasters. Below is his personal account of the swine (H1N1) outbreak in Mexico.

It has become a ritual: every morning, the familiar newscast indicates the latest government figures of the Swine Influenza patients.

130 cases on Friday, April 24

1,000 persons infected by Sunday,

2,000 by Monday

By Wednesday, the number had fallen to 49 confirmed cases, as the Government recognized its nascent testing capacities were limited to a couple hundred tests a day.

By Thursday, the steady influx of statistics had started to flow in again, during the daily prime time news conferences.

We were all becoming flu experts: stay home as much as possible; wear masks in any public place; wash hands over and over; avoid hugging your closest friends, even if it means hurting feelings for life; make thermometers an everyday companion, alongside your comb and toothbrush.

By May 2nd, the Minister of Health announced that the peak of the epidemic had passed, that more samples kept on showing positive but that fewer patients came to hospitals.

However, this sanitized analysis was dimmed by a much more humane account of the epidemic from a good friend: his cousin in Toluca, a suburb of Mexico City, started coughing on Thursday. An informal visit to a doctor friend led to a preliminary prescription for cough syrup. Friday went by fine, but by the evening the dreaded symptoms showed up: headache, muscle aches, fever and more coughing. After spending hours in an overwhelmed hospital, he was eventually diagnosed with the A(H1N1) Influenza and received treatment.

Now comes the recovery… and the nerve-racking wait to see if he infected anyone in his family.

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