Monday, April 27, 2009

Alarming Flu Reports From Mexico

By Paul Hsieh

BBC News has posted a number of "in the trenches" readers' reports on the swine flu epidemic in Mexico. Here are two disturbing excerpts from Mexican physicians:

I'm a specialist doctor in respiratory diseases and intensive care at the Mexican National Institute of Health. There is a severe emergency over the swine flu here. More and more patients are being admitted to the intensive care unit. Despite the heroic efforts of all staff (doctors, nurses, specialists, etc) patients continue to inevitably die. The truth is that anti-viral treatments and vaccines are not expected to have any effect, even at high doses. It is a great fear among the staff. The infection risk is very high among the doctors and health staff.

There is a sense of chaos in the other hospitals and we do not know what to do. Staff are starting to leave and many are opting to retire or apply for holidays. The truth is that mortality is even higher than what is being reported by the authorities, at least in the hospital where I work it. It is killing three to four patients daily, and it has been going on for more than three weeks. It is a shame and there is great fear here. Increasingly younger patients aged 20 to 30 years are dying before our helpless eyes and there is great sadness among health professionals here.

Antonio Chavez, Mexico City

...I work as a resident doctor in one of the biggest hospitals in Mexico City and sadly, the situation is far from "under control". As a doctor, I realise that the media does not report the truth. Authorities distributed vaccines among all the medical personnel with no results, because two of my partners who worked in this hospital (interns) were killed by this new virus in less than six days even though they were vaccinated as all of us were. The official number of deaths is 20, nevertheless, the true number of victims are more than 200. I understand that we must avoid to panic, but telling the truth it might be better now to prevent and avoid more deaths.

Yeny Gregorio Dávila, Mexico City
A few natural questions:

1) How will this affect border control policy?

Mexico has arguably been teetering on the edge of being a "failed state" for a few years now. If a flu pandemic causes the central government to lose effective control over the country, will we see a flood of desperate illegal immigrants seeking to cross into the US to escape the problems in Mexico? And given that some of those people may be infected, how will the US respond?

Although I support open immigration in the sense that Craig Biddle discusses in his article "Immigration and Individual Rights" from the Spring 2008 issue of The Objective Standard, I also completely agree with him that it is a legitimate function of government to prevent people with deadly communicable diseases from entering this country. In an emergency, this may require fairly drastic steps (such as deploying the US military along the border).

Hence, border security may become a big issue in the near future.

2) If the pandemic strikes the US, will this lead to a permanent increase in government control over our lives?

Again, in a mass casualty medical emergency, I think the government can legitimately impose controls that would not normally be justified. For instance, it might restrict normal commerce, assume temporary control of hospitals and health care facilities, impose quarantines/curfews on neighborhoods and cities, etc. One can argue over whether any specific proposed measures are justified for a given emergency, but the basic principle is valid.

But we also know that once government assumes "emergency" control over a sector of the economy, it rarely gives up that control after the emergency has passed.

Hence, a flu pandemic could lead to permanent new government controls over health care and/or other major sectors of the rest of the American economy, even after the immediate crisis has passed.

3) What would be the long-term economic effects of a flu pandemic on the US?

If there is significant loss of life, the individual tragedies will be bad enough.

But I expect this would be compounded by significant disruption of normal economic activity. In the present political climate, this could deepen our current recession, thus creating more pseudo-justification for further government controls over the economy, which would further worsen the recession, etc. How far could this downward economic spiral go?

We'll soon know the answers to these questions.

I also wish to emphasize that I am not taking an alarmist position. For instance, I think it's a huge positive that medical technology has advanced immensely since the flu pandemic of 1918.

If you want to read some good practical advice, take a look at this page from epidemiologist Dr. Tara Smith (not the Objectivist philosophy professor) written during the bird flu scare of two years ago. In short, she recommends:
Don't panic
Wash your hands
If you're sick, stay home
Don't touch your eyes/nose/mouth
Stock up on food, water, and other household necessities (i.e., standard prep for blizzard, earthquakes, or other natural disasters)
There is also recent research suggesting that Vitamin D may help strengthen your ability to fight off the flu. (The article doesn't specifically address swine flu, but my guess is that correcting any Vitamin D deficiency wouldn't hurt and would likely help against this new virus.)

[Note from DMH: As I've mentioned before -- here and here and here -- most Americans are deficient in vitamin D. For example, a recent study showed that 72% of men over 65 are deficient using 30 ng/ml as the cutoff. From what I've read, levels should be over 60 ng/ml. For some people, that can require thousands of IU supplementation per day.]

So don't panic, keep informed, and stay tuned for updates!

(BBC link via Instapundit.)

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