Mexico City is one of the greatest urban agglomerations in the world, a dense and teeming mountain valley with a population of more than 20 million. Wealthy enclaves have the sleekness of Manhattan or Beverly Hills, but much of the metropolitan area is gritty and anonymous. It must be an easy place in which to disappear.
Yet somehow, amid all the chaos and bustle, Mexican health authorities noticed an unusual cluster of deaths -- first just a handful, then a few dozen. That observation led to the identification of a new, potentially dangerous strain of influenza, and now governments worldwide are issuing travel advisories, readying stockpiles of medicine, canvassing hospitals for possible cases of "swine flu" and, of course, telling citizens not to panic.
The initial response to the flu outbreak, which may have the potential to become a pandemic, illustrates first of all how sensitive and responsive the global health-monitoring system has become. If the world is going to be ravaged by an infectious disease, chances are that we'll see it coming.
The unusual deaths in Mexico City that caused officials to sound the alarm were not, after all, so unusual. It's expected that people will die of flu during flu season. But it's not normal for relatively young, healthy adults to die of flu, as was happening. It was a real achievement for authorities to notice a few anomalous deaths and connect the dots.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Words of Praise
Here's Eugene Robinson on Mexico's reaction: