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5 May, 2009 08:58

"I went to Mexico and all I got was swine flu"

The swine flu virus from Mexico that has spread worldwide, infecting more than fourteen hundred people, has created a pandemic of black humour in Mexico itself.

Despite the World Health Organization stating that the global epidemic is still in its early stages and the situation may worsen, Mexico is preparing to re-open schools and businesses.

Swine flu has caused controversy with its name alone. Authorities have dropped the “swine” epithet that’s put poor piggy in the spotlight and sent pork stocks tumbling.

Mexican flu is an obvious alternative for the name. Mexico's government will hardly endorse this new type of pig brand, but others were in a rush to cash in.

As the flu spread, the scare proved to be far more contagious as the virus and conspiracy theories mushroomed. The boldest ones suggest swine flu is linked to Mexican drug cartels, or even Al Qaeda.

The greatest fear is that the virus will mutate. It’s been reported that the strain is a mix of genes from swine flu, human flu, and bird flu. And that gave birth to a whole new round of online gags.

For example:

“As the two friends wandered through the snow on their way home, piglet grinned to himself thinking how lucky he was to have a best friend like Pooh. Pooh thought to himself 'if the pig sneezes he’s dead.'"

The pandemic paranoia has stoked the flames of a couple of diplomatic rows. The Spanish government was fuming after the German Health Minister suggested people should not attend the Spanish Grand Prix.

And Mexico is mad at China for holding Mexican tourists to the country under house arrest.

The fact is that flu of any kind is a dangerous disease that kills hundreds of thousands every year, and authorities are not in a rush to remove restrictions.

“Even though we might be seeing only mild cases now, we cannot say what will happen in the future,” warns the spokesman of the World Health Organization (WHO) Gregory Hartl.

The World Health Organization warns of a second round of flu outbreak. But many think the outcry was just the media crying wolf. The scare proved to be more newsworthy than the worn out financial crisis, so it is likely to stay in the headlines and blogs for a while.

There is another angle to this story. Russian health officials have criticized the World Health Organization for lobbying the interests of pharmaceutical companies.

The country's chief hygiene inspector says drugs other than those recommended by the WHO could also be effective in fighting swine flu.

“There are international and national patterns of treating flu, and they include several drugs,” stated Russia’s Chief medical officer of health Gennady Onischenko. “Instead, we see that the World Health Organization has turned into a marketing department of one company. Why is this virus resistant to all major anti-flu drugs, and only one drug is considered the most effective? Maybe the others are not one hundred percent effective, but they still can be used for treatment.”