Why Swine Flu Appears to be More Deadly in Mexico

In this article on slate.com, David Dobbs notes that the only swine flu deaths that have occurred are here in Mexico and suggests four reasons why the virus seems to have a much, much lower mortality up north.  All of Dobbs’ reasons hinge on the idea that there is some key pathological difference — the possibility of a different virus, other secondary bugs, genetic differences (given the immigrant population in the U.S., that’s likely to be a non-starter), etc., here in Mexico.  But I’m thinking the real difference is the quality of health care that those with the swine flu received three weeks ago vs. those today.

As Dobbs’ notes, two weeks ago, no one had heard of the swine flu.  Yet there were plenty of people here in Mexico who were sick with the flu (swine or not).  Swine flu happens to be particularly contagious and more severe that the common flu; if those with the swine flu were not aware of the potential for this bug to be a bit worse than other viruses, it’s likely that they did not seek medical attention in time to avoid fatal dehydration and breathing complications.  Furthermore, although health care in Mexico City tends to be very good, health care in rural areas is much less so, meaning that patients may not have received the attention they needed at the start of the outbreak.

Why do I think this?  One simple reason: the deaths from the swine flu seem to be tapering off (my interpretation of NY Times reports) since the government declared an emergency here.  Given the time needed for the swine flu to incubate, the isolation caused by the four-day-old emergency is not enough to have abated the number of patients with advanced stages of the flu.  Instead, it suggests that greater awareness by the public and by public health officials is resulting in better and more timely health care for those who are in distress with the swine flu and, thus, a sharp reduction in mortality.  We’ll see over the next few days whether this interpretation is supported by the evidence.


México, D.F.


4 Responses

  1. […] also just read this post, which claims that cases of the swine flu in Mexico are actually […]

  2. I think that’s a good hypothesis; nobody normally gets particularly worked up about a healthy young adult with the flu so it’s possible a lot of early cases weren’t treated promptly. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were even a few patients out there who were sent home by the clinics and told to just rest and keep hydrated, ie normal flu advice, who later became severely ill when it turned out to be the new virus.

  3. […] also just read this post, which claims that cases of the swine flu in Mexico are actually […]

  4. […] also just read this post, which claims that cases of the swine flu in Mexico are actually […]

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