Mexicans take flu outbreak with dose of skepticism

April 29, 2009

Mexicans are taking the swine flu outbreak a bit like they do their tequila — seriously, but with a big pinch of salt.

There’s a real fear of catching the killer virus, which has already claimed up to 159 lives, largely because many Mexicans are skeptical about getting the right treatment from state hospitals.

Nothing sums that up better than the millions of surgical face masks being worn by everyone from businessmen to street kids washing car windshields in the capital’s never-ending sprawl.

It’s a bizarre sight, and the rebellious or foolhardy who shun the masks draw suspicious glances.

But even the mask-wearers tell you the whole thing could well be some big nothing cooked up by the media and reminiscent of the mythical beast Chupacabra — Mexico’s bloodsucking equivalent of the Loch Ness monster.

With a shrug and a smile, a lot of Mexicans tell you from behind a strip of grubby fabric that they’ve heard the masks don’t even work.

Taxi drivers, who often show a terrifying disregard for conventional rules of road safety, seem to be taking the mask regime particularly seriously.

“Please miss, can you wind down your window? I need all four windows open to have the air circulating,” one driver asked me, his pristine white face mask teamed with some rubber surgeon’s gloves.

As we weaved between trucks at dizzying speed, I noticed his safety belt dangling idle by his side.

(A woman walks with a sign around her neck that reads “immune” in Mexico City’s main square, April 27, 2009.  REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar)


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It is still unclear at even this late date just how serious swine flu/H5N1 is going to be. Presumably any rating by the WHO short of its highest means that the situation does not quite qualify as a global crisis. It’s also of some interest to me that so far no travel operator would voluntarily refund the price of normally non-refundable air tickets to the USA on the strength of what has happened so far, not even to the states bordering Mexico. (This might change if the situation became so bad that it was literally impossible to travel, but so far all I have heard is that insurance might pay out in such a case.)The British Foreign Office has certainly advised against nonessential travel to Mexico, but the border has not been closed, and advice does not constitute a legal obligation to comply. It would be entirely possible for me, when travelling this year to Texas, to risk a day out in Mexico contrary to their advice, although I somehow do not think I will be doing it.

Posted by Howard G Kiernan | Report as abusive

Sorry, but that flea fraud its a lie, im in a city near from Mexico DF, and nothing happens here, I just hear radio with a sci fi storys, this isn´t a flea, Calderon and all the political community try to become a false epidemical heroes.

Posted by Armando | Report as abusive

Mexican governments have traditionally lied to Mexicans in major crisis, so it’s no wonder that they are taking the epidemic with skepticism. I remember when I used to live there that when an earthquake struck the DF in the late 80’s, the PRI government said that a few hundred people have been killed. However, the U.S. embassy gave a far more realistic figure – it was in the thousands.

Posted by Ricardo | Report as abusive

[…] “Even the mask-wearers tell you the whole thing could well be some big nothing cooked up by the media and reminiscent of the mythical beast Chupacabra[s]* — Mexico’s bloodsucking equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster.” ~ Helen Popper, Reuters. […]

Posted by Cryptomundo » The Chupacabras Flu | Report as abusive