The Invasion of the Flu Warriors

The question in the NY Times today is Why are Mexicans dying from this new strain of “swine” flu (they couldn’t figure out what else to name it)?  Others (Westerners) who have contracted it are recovering after having a milder bout that set them back a few days.  I have my theories.

Centuries ago when the British and Spanish invaders brought influenza (pig derived) and smallpox to North and South America that decimated indigenous people, the weaponry of germs did the lion’s share to reduce and subjugate populations.  Advanced technology of the time — guns — managed to subdue those remaining.

Read “Guns, Germs and Steel” and “1491” to learn more, if you haven’t already.

With the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521 came the diseases of Europe for which the indigenous population had no immunity from — it was not in their genetic coding.  Hundreds of thousands died from the invasion of germs.   My hunch is that hundreds of years later, despite some intermarriage and some genetic rebalancing, the original gene pool of  disease vulnerability is still prevalent.

Why else would Canadians, Americans, Israelis, Spaniards and Brits who traveled to Mexico and returned with the virus have an easier time of it?  I don’t think the answer lies in the fact that medicine and public health is THAT much better in these countries.   I have traveled to Oaxaca many times and am impressed with their level of medical and dental education and patient care.

Smithfield, the largest hog grower in the U.S., owns 50% of the million + swine herd in Veracruz where it is said this virus originated.  I am reading that downstream pollution could have contributed to this new viral strain.  An indigenous village near the plant washes it clothes and bathes in the same river that passes by this hog farm where wastewater is said to be dumped.  Could this be the source?  Is Smithfield and its Mexican business partner  responsible?  What is the government role in regulating health?  We can ask these same questions in the U.S. with our NC experience monitoring and regulating the hog industry and groundwater pollution here that have been impacted by hog farms and processing plants owned by Smithfield.

Today, I talked with Eric via email.  They are scared.  There have been eight cases diagnosed in Oaxaca.  The state government is talking about closing public buildings.  Oaxaca’s population is primarily indigenous — Zapotec, Mixtec, and other tribal groups.  I would suspect their vulnerability to be high.  Eric will leave his job at the museum to go home to his village if it closes for a time, as will others.  I advised him to buy hand sanitizer and distribute it among his family.  No news of outbreak in Teotitlan del Valle.  I am praying that this flu does not spread to my village and the people I love.

Meanwhile, here at home, the university nursing student who I had helped to secure an internship position in the village clinic this summer has put her plans on hold.  We are sad and disappointed and waiting for the news to shift.

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