Epidemic escapee: Student flees flu in Mexico City
Laura Burns didn't realize how bad the swine flu epidemic was until her classes in Mexico City were canceled Friday, April 24. Even then, she thought it was just for one day.
"They canceled classes in all schools," recounts Burns, a former Hook intern who's doing graduate work in international relations at La Universidad Iberoamericana and who describes her adventure on her blog. "On Saturday, they announced they were canceled until May 6."
She began hearing more on the news about the swine flu outbreak in the city of 8.8 million, and the news was getting more dramatic.
"The mayor started talking about canceling public transportation and suspending all activity," she says. "I went out on Saturday night, and all the bars were closed. It was like a ghost town."
By Sunday, April 26, Burns decided to return home to Charlottesville. She already had a ticket to come back May 6 for her sister's medical school graduation, and she changed the ticket.
The airport scene Monday was calm, says Burns, with most people wearing masks. "I wore one the whole airplane ride because planes are infamous for being spreaders of disease," she says.
At the airport in Mexico City, surveys were passed out that asked people if they were sick or had any symptoms of swine flu and suggested they not fly if they did, but Burns didn't observe anyone being prevented from flying.
There was one more trauma before Burns could leave Mexico.
"The earthquake was the day I was leaving," she says of the Acapulco-centered 5.6 tremor felt in Mexico City. "It was the apocalypse," she half jokes.
Also landing in Charlottesville from Mexico on Tuesday, April 24 was former Mexican president Vicente Fox, who was the keynote speaker at this year's Latin American Student Association conference at UVA's Darden School of Business. Fox took time away from his lecture on leadership in a globalized economy to address the swine flu outbreak.
"I think President [Felipe] Calderon is doing a great job making courageous decisions like closing all of the schools," Fox told the hundreds gathered at the Darden School.
Fox says based on preparations his administration made before his term was up in 2006, he believes the Mexican government should be able to mitigate the effects of the epidemic.
"In my administration, in 2005, we came out of meetings with American public health officials with a policy that's this thick," said Fox separating his hands by about a foot. "We bought millions of vaccines. The problem is you don't know which vaccines to use until you know what the virus is. Everyone needs to collaborate so we can identify the virus and distribute the vaccines as quickly as possible."
At press time, 152 deaths in Mexico City were suspected of being caused by swine flu.
–updated April 28 at 5:02pm