Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fourteen Days

Yesterday, I connected up with an old friend for a few hours in the late afternoon. He was without a car so I picked him up at the Half Price book store which he had walked to after getting his hair cut. We settled on the Alligator-whatever-it-is next to the book store as a reasonably decent place to catch up.

Jeff's been in Louisianna lately because that's where much of the movie action is these days, and he's definitely in that business. Towards the end of our chat, he said, "Did you hear that the WHO announced that there have been 7 confirmed deaths from the Swine Flu?" Jeff's a serious guy, and a former reporter, so I didn't just PooPoo his claim, but the story didn't resonate with my physician partner who I immediately called for confirmation.

Later in the evening I saw the story on one of my lefty type news services, but even then, I wondered if the story was somehow manufactured. In my mailbox this morning, confirmation of the accuracy of the lower numbers was found, thanks to the Australians.

Only 7 swine flu deaths, not 152, says WHO
Sydney Morning Herald
April 29, 2009

A member of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has dismissed claims that more than 150 people have died from swine flu, saying it has officially recorded only seven deaths around the world.

Vivienne Allan, from WHO's patient safety program, said the body had confirmed that worldwide there had been just seven deaths - all in Mexico - and 79 confirmed cases of the disease.

Unfortunately that [150-plus deaths] is incorrect information and it does happen, but that's not information that's come from the World Health Organisation," Ms Allan told ABC Radio today. "That figure is not a figure that's come from the World Health Organisation and, I repeat, the death toll is seven and they are all from Mexico."

Ms Allan said WHO had confirmed 40 cases of swine flu in the Americas, 26 in Mexico, six in Canada, two in Spain, two in Britain and three in New Zealand.

Ms Allan said it was difficult to measure how fast the virus was spreading.

She said a real concern would be if the flu virus manifested in a country where a person had had no contact with Mexico, and authorities were watching all countries for signs of that.

"There is no pattern that has emerged at this stage to be able to say that it is spreading in a particular way or it is spreading into a particular country ... the situation is continuing to evolve," she said. (more)

And even though the headline might calm your concerns a bit, another story in the Herald says:

"The Federal Government's pandemic plan, a 132-page manual issued to medics, media and the public, insists that once the world reaches phase five, Australians should stock their pantries with food and bottled water to last 14 days, check on elderly neighbours and put emergency numbers by the phone."

So, stock up, but don't panic.

The H1N1 story is not just an abstraction for me. Last Friday, two good friends and I made what was, by all standards, a very uneventful crossing to our respective homes in Mexico. Our little village is in the State of San Luis Potosi, not that far from one of the epicenters of the disease.

After a long day of driving, we ate dinner, went to bed, and woke up the next morning to find ourselves reading in the San Luis newspaper about some kind of swine flu deal. Since, we were hatching some plans to go to the desert to be with a Shaman for a couple of days, I called home, asked my Dr. partner for some advise, and headed for the sacred lands.

We remarked to ourselves as we bounced down the narrow mountain road that leads from Catorce to the altiplano below that this was a good start for a horror action movie. You know, four guys head out to the wilderness only to find upon their return that the world had changed.

Well, when we did get back, there were no bodies on the side of the road, but there was a lot of angst, and the usually large weekend crowds that flock to this magic pueblito were non existent. It was, like the pueblo fantasma above, a ghost town.

The residents had all kinds of opinions ranging from "follow the money", to blaming a giant pig farm in La Gloria , to the following email that I received from a resident of San Luis who was in one of the hot zones:

"Here in San Luis every thing under control in an indoors routine till the 6th that activities start again.The only Hospital general, is a 5th world hospital, worse than Thailand in the 80's. How could they be able to analyse, isolate the virus, and be sure what is is?

In Matehuala they say there are cases, how could they be able to know for sure what it is?

Very strange!!!!

Do you know the ulterior motifs? (sic)

When Obama was in Europe at the G20 briefing, Angela Merkel said that Mexico is ready to become the 51st star of the USA flag. That was her only comment.

Who created this big game? Secretaría de Hacienda is getting millions off dollars for the flu. The statistics say that every 10 minutes a child dies of dehydration since years and nobody says anything."

I wrote back, "There are many reasons to think many things about this event. But whatever we might think, it appears to be dangerous."

With some of the more sophisticated folks in the village, I talked about disaster capitalism and how certain forces use natural and unnatural disasters to bring about economic and civic changes that could not occur without the event. We talked about the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Kline's seminal work describing decades of disaster capitalism.

Yes, a Pandemic will be very good for some folks.

And very bad for a lot of others, like the Mexican tourist industry for example. It won't help the global economy either which arguably already has a possibly fatal case of the pig flu.

We got out of Mexico and left our little village as soon as we could. We weren't sure if the border would close, or we would be subject to quarantine, as phobic politicians began to demand that we close our borders completely. By the time we were on the road, some of our politicians were already in their fear gear even as the CDC expressed their views of its limited value.

As we made our way back, we saw our first signs of the look of Pandemic. Almost everyone on the road who was in public, such as food handlers or toll collectors, had masks and gloves. At the Casita de Cobre, there were signs and handouts. The army set up check points. We saw one ambulance that had picked up at least one sick member of one traveling family. We applied hand sanitizer everytime we paid a toll or bought gasoline.

But when we got to the American side, where passive testing had been ordered by Homeland Security, the guards had no gloves and no masks. And in true form, they spent most of their time hitting the sides of the car with that putter-looking thing trying to find drugs, and even more time than that trying to figure out if the fresh orange marmalade that was given to me in the pueblo was a permissable item. (they had already taken our Whole Food apple)

When they did ask us how we were feeling, we told them we were fine. But at the immigration stop further in, the health issue wasn't even mentioned.

Like our trip down, the trip home from Catorce was more or less uneventful.

But, instead of going back to work at work,

I'm working at home, in three days of self quarantine.

And I carry hand sanitizer everywhere.

Just because some Capitalist somewhere

is going to make a lot of money over this,
Or some world organization may greatly increase its power,

It doesn't mean it's not dangerous.

Fourteen days of food and water might be a good idea too.



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