First off, links to my radio work today on the swine flu story:
Here's my commentary on NPR. Here's my feature story for Free Speech Radio News, a grassroots network with correspondents around the world. I also spoke with Benjamin Walker at WFMU in the New York-New Jersey area on the swine epidemic in Mexico, and have more call-ins scheduled later.
Now it's time for a breather. Because it basically feels like the whole world needs one right now, even if that earthquake that randomly struck Mexico City today seemed to have been some kind of cruel cosmic joke.
On Monday authorities here canceled school across the country and elevated the number of suspected swine flu fatalities to 149. The 'suspected' there is important. Keep in mind Mexico is not yet equipped to test for and identify the virus. The number could rise, or just as well, it could fall. Also, more than 1,600 people have been treated for swine flu, but the majority of those have been released and sent home. So even if you do catch swine flu, it's more likely you'd recover and live than it is that you'd die from it.
** Monday evening update: Wanted to quickly point out this relevant piece just moved by the AP. Just as some of us expected, the Mexican government response to the swine flu outbreak has so far been deplorable:
In the town of Xonacatlan, just west of Mexico City, Antonia Cortes Borbolla told The Associated Press that nobody has given her medicine in the week since her husband succumbed to raging fever and weakened lungs that a lab has confirmed as swine flu.
No health workers have inspected her home, asked how her husband might have contracted the illness or tested the neighbors' pigs, she said.
Elias Camacho, a 31-year-old truck driver with fever, cough and body aches, was ordered out of a government ambulance Sunday because paramedics complained he might be contagious, his father-in-law told the AP. When family members took him to a hospital in a taxi, Jorge Martinez Cruz said, a doctor told him he wasn't sick.
Camacho was finally admitted to the hospital — and placed in an area marked "restricted" — after a doctor at a private clinic notified state health authorities, Martinez said.
We should be seeing more of these stories emerge in the coming days. **
Yes, the swine flu could mutate and become more dangerous. It could spread farther and further. Things could change at any moment. But again, as I argue today, what's more worrisome is the corrosive and contagious quality of the fear, not the flu. And frankly the economic impact of this outbreak has the potential to be even more painful and long-lasting for all of us.
Yet the panicky atmosphere in Mexico City is palpably toxic. So I'm heading out of town for a few days -- before they really do shut down the metro. School is canceled and most 'fun' things are closed. It's time to escape D.F. and the swine flu blues. Check back later for more.
** Photo above by Conrad Starr.