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Swine flu

The emerging pandemic dominated headlines in Mexico. The government is under siege for its slow response. A 5-year-old becomes a media sensation. A U.S. subsidiary is under scrutiny. One-third of the capital's economy vanishes.

Top News: There has only been one story in Mexico at the end of April and most people on the planet know what that is. Swine flu has created panic, a media blitz and fears that it will be the next pandemic holocaust. Sadly, it has killed perhaps as many as 176 in Mexico its first weeks.


The tsunami of media has including excellent, terrible and many sensationalist stories from all corners of the world.


Looking at the suffering in hospitals and human tales, a story by veteran Mexico reporter Dudley Althaus best captured the emotions and family spirit. Althaus colorfully describes the scenes outside the National Institute for Respiratory Diseases where many swine flu victims suffered and died.


He vividly describes a new patient being brought in: “Here comes another one,” someone in the crowd said loudly as a sweating, grunting, 39-year-old man with a nasty cough hobbled into the emergency room, leaning heavily on his wife.


A flimsy surgical mask covering his mouth and nose, Miguel Angel Esquivel crumbled briefly into a plastic chair in the waiting room before being hustled by attendants into an examination room.


“They haven’t told me anything yet,” his wife, Erika Cruz, said later, saying her husband’s pain seemed so sharp, and his health had declined so quickly, that she was all but certain it was the deadly flu.


Also outside the clinics, the Washington Post examines how so many of the victims are otherwise healthy young men in their prime. This puzzling and tragic loss of family breadwinners and heirs is a feature that is rightly compared to the Spanish flu at the end of World War I. That epidemic also fell mostly on young adults, whereas flu epidemics usually attack children, the elderly and the immune-compromised.


The media attention soon spun from Mexico City to the dusty sweltering village of La Gloria in Veracruz, which could have been Ground Zero in the plague. In that hill community, 5-year-old Edgar Hernandez – the earliest known person to have the flu – soon became almost as famous as President Barack Obama. And every journalist seemed to love his interviews (and to get the same quotes). The New York Times had a particularly touching story.


The newspapers also focused on the industrial pig farm nearby La Gloria which villagers claimed was the source of the disease. Pig farm owners Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of the Virginia-based company Smithfield Foods, were irate about the issue and denied that any of their hogs had ever been sick. The Mexican government supported them, saying the flu had come from Asia.


But the Mexican government itself was under attack. Newspapers highlighted their slowness to react the swine flu outbreak as it grew. Could the government really have done any better? Perhaps time will tell.


Money: If Mexico’s economy already had a cold from the recession then swine flu has given it … well, the flu – and hit it over the head with a shovel. Businesses were shut, tourists poured out of the country and the stock market and peso crashed in the first days of the epidemic. Mexico City's Chamber of Commerce said the closures and cancellations were costing 777 million pesos ($57 million) a day in the capital city alone – more than a third of the local economy.


Another casualty of the disease has been entertainment. First the government shut all the bars and discos, then the sports teams played to empty seats and finally restaurants were only allowed to sell takeaway food. A good night out in Mexico now? Sitting inside and watching the news about the latest swine flu developments.