Why Swine Flu Is Deadlier in Mexico

It may not be at all; it's probably a measurement problem
By Gabriel Winant,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 28, 2009 12:22 PM CDT
Why Swine Flu Is Deadlier in Mexico
Arriving passengers pasing by a thermal camera are shown on the screen of the device at Incheon International airport, west of Seoul on April 28, 2009.   (AP Photo/Jung Yeon-je, Pool)

Why is swine flu deadlier on one side of the US-Mexico border than the other? Writing in Slate, David Dobbs examines some explanations as to why the virus has killed about 100 of 1,600 infected in Mexico, and zero of 300 in the United States. The best bet is actually “bad math,” Dobbs writes. “It's perfectly conceivable Mexico has actually had 10,000 or 100,000 cases—or even 1 million cases.”

If the disease is much milder—and more widespread—than thought, that would explain the numbers problem. Otherwise, it’s not spreading very fast. Other possibilities:

  • The virus is partnering with some other bug common in Mexico to make it more deadly—This option, Dobbs says, "remains a distinct possibility."
  • The US and Mexico don’t have the same virus—"Highly remote," Dobbs says: Initial tests "show that the fatal Mexico cases match closely the 40-plus milder cases confirmed in the United States."
  • Mexicans are genetically more susceptible—"The swine flu is new to everyone," Dobbs writes, "(so) we can probably put this 'genetic vulnerability' explanation in a drawer."
(More swine flu stories.)

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