April 27th, 2009
12:32 PM ET

Deciphering swine flu in Mexico

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

It's 4:30 a.m. here in Mexico City, and we are outside the largest public hospital in the city. Some of the earliest cases of swine flu were brought here and many of them died.

It is clear to us now that for the first several days, the doctors had no idea what was killing their patients. At first, they told me, they thought it was just a late-season flu, but one thing kept nagging at them: Patients who typically die from flu are elderly or very young. But this flu was striking people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. I immediately recalled my reporting on SARS and avian flu. It’s counterintuitive; typically, someone with a weakened immune system would be most at risk - the elderly and young - but in this case, it is people with the strongest immune systems. Why? At least in the cases of SARS and avian flu, it was not so much the virus that did the killing, as the body’s response to it – an overwhelming immune response, with inflammation that was deadly to the patients. Think about that. A stronger immune system means a stronger response and a more likely death. The same thing was seen during the 1918 pandemic that killed at least 50 million people worldwide.

In Mexico City, doctors were mystified, until someone brought up the possibility of this being caused by a virus the world had never seen. Two weeks of testing later, this new variant of the swine flu was discovered. The symptoms are similar to the more common flu, but there seem to be more gastrointestinal symptoms and it often appears with a sudden onset of dizziness.

This is not a pandemic, not yet. But, it is an outbreak and doctors here are scrambling to figure out where it started. They guess a pig farm, but there are no pig farms in Mexico City, so the search has to be broadened. Most likely Patient Zero came from a small city outside Mexico City. But, from where? And is it possible to contain it? We are investigating in Mexico City.

soundoff (693 Responses)
  1. Jeremy

    Dr. Gupta,

    I believe that the reason this is affecting the people in their prime is due to a the pathophysiology of the immune system. These peoples bodies are being bombarded by more things on a daily basis, i.e. hectic schedules (tiredness – weakens the system) and the fact that the human body is already battling so many viruses on a daily basis that things virus could have done a slight of ahnd trick on the body's defense system. The virus could have confused the immune system so much that it was fighting this off, then got side tracked by other (or so-called) illnesses that it thought it had it under control but it did not.


    April 28, 2009 at 18:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. James

    The main deference between US / other county to Mexico that most do know about is only wreathe , business has A.C. to flow cool fresh air through air filter that catch most virus , germs in air . If that would deference by ever one in US had got the swine flu where not near as bad as Mexico?
    Then second point What is deference the diet someone eat can also make deference in how person body fight the flu or virus off like if has eat lot meat , fruits, vegatables, +amount vitamin's that take and get from their food?
    The main vitamin C /or ester C that help fight virus / infections, But best is to take before get bad sick for Vitamin C could take effect.
    So your would have to time build your white Blood cell to fight infection naturally
    Body build has eat or drink among high protein with high vitamin C , a good amount of vitamin B6, B12 , Folic Acid in most foods , shack to help out on workout. Also body builders use igh vitamin C , a good amount of vitamin B6, B12 , Folic Acid help out cut some down time with pain, inflammation

    April 28, 2009 at 19:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jose M. Silveira

    Dear Dr. Gupta, the issue on wearing masks, mouth covers, washing hands and covering properly your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing should be a common practice.
    I have been insisting in my office that people follow these rules all the time:

    wash your hands with soap frequently.
    don't go to work if you are sick
    don't send your children to school/nursery if they are sick.
    cover your mouth and/or nose when coughing or sneezing.
    Carry a portable antibacterial spray with you, specially if you are sick.

    My daughter is a physician she had to provide masks and bacterial pumps to their children's nursery because they did not have any and did not even know what to say when my daughter asked them.
    That is a cultural issue and we have to start changing our behavior, not now, we have to change it forever. I understand that several hundred people die every day because of colds and influenza.
    I look up to you and people like you with access to the media on a daily basis, to start educating people in being more conscious about their hygiene and consideration with others.

    When I went to Japan about 30 years ago, I saw a lot of people wearing masks and I thought it was because of the air pollution. Wrong. The people who wearing are sick and they don't want to pass it along to someone else.

    I was born in Uruguay in 1940 and I remember my parents asking me to wash my hands every time I came from outside, specially after using the bathroom or before sitting at the table.

    Thank you.

    April 28, 2009 at 20:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. charlie combs

    Does anyone feel that this may be a military designed bug. I mean, look at all the different DNA. What are everybody else's thoughts on this? Oh, and by the way I am not a conspiracy theorist

    April 28, 2009 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. ER

    I am from Mexico and I believe the swine flu is being intentionally exaggerated by our government (and the US government) to distract people from the current economic situation.
    Today the Mexican congress passed 20 laws in 2 hours… they usually pass that many laws in a year! The Mexican Congressmen are a bunch of lazy corrupt politicians that can never agree on anything, and now that everyone is distracted with the swine flu, 20 laws are passed…
    What did they passed? Well, basically they now allow people to have small portions of drugs for personal use, the government can intervene phone calls and internet communications, now Mexican cops can be undercover (in Mexico that’s very dangerous). And by the way, the IMF just approved a $47 Billion loan to Mexico, which of course means the Mexican people all of the sudden own this much money and no one knows how it will be spent. Interestingly enough, the media in Mexico is not talking about any of this.
    This is why Mexico has been the only Country with swine flu victims.

    April 29, 2009 at 00:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. M.K. Kilgore

    I remember another outbreak of the swine flu in the nineteen-sixties, and everyone where I was employed were required to take the shot to prevent it. Why is this not reported today? Also, if someone has been taking the regular flu shot for several years, and comes down with high fevers and the other symptons of the flu, is this a good indication that he has contactd the so- called swine flu of this day and time?

    April 29, 2009 at 01:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Elizabeth

    Ask St. Martin of Tours for prayers. His feast is November 11th, the same day that both WWI and the 1918 flu stopped. Note that there are millions starving in NYC; the food banks are swamped; hunger makes people susceptible to disease. Support universal health care, clean water, clean air, clean energy, safe food. We have had years of neglect of our health, food, drug, and other systems.

    April 29, 2009 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. María del Mar

    Hi, I´m a 25 year old doctor, I'm in Internal Medicine here in Mexico city and I believe we are just as worried as you wolud imagine.
    Personally, my work team, and my teachers have been questioning the same thing for several days. Why haven't we caught the virus? After all, we practically live in the hospital, we have had 2 possible swine flu related deaths last week and all of us 22 residents were in contact with the pacient... and we are all perfectly healthy.
    We have asked ourselves the same thing... why has ther only been deaths in our country?
    How did it all strted? why didn't anyone noticed earlier?
    When is it going to stop?
    Really, this week, going to the hospital and back home has become a matter of worriness to all of us. what if we take the virus back home to our family? What if we are all sick and haven't noticed yet ?
    This is being more stressfull than we ever thought...

    April 29, 2009 at 03:05 | Report abuse | Reply

    I would be curious to know if CNN or Dr. Gupta is going to find out whether it is true or not that Mexican officials have been turning off utilities which have left people without water, etc. for more than a month at a time (around the Mex. City area). I heard that from someone who was told that from a friend living in Mex. Cty. As well, I'd like to know, since Mexicans are filling prescriptions on border towns like Eagle Pass, TX for Tamaflu, shouldn't there be a restriction to sell only to American citizens so that our country supplies are available here? At the same time, we don't want it to spread so is it morally or ethically correct not to restrict it? How does the medical prof. make that decision? Thanks

    April 29, 2009 at 09:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Janet

    @ Dr. Gupta

    I just visited the WHO site bcause I am preparing a visit to Mexico somewhere end of next month as a biz woman. The figures confirmed there do not indicate your "many of them died", the WHO says not more than 7 as of 29 April 09.How do you explain your language. YOu are not only a doctor, but journalist to-double responsibility to the public. I do not say that you are wrong, I am not an expert just like to make informed decisions.
    However, thanks for the coverage and care.
    As Americans (north and south) we should share common values, especially in humanitarian issues. I guess a lot of you label themselves Christian here in North America.Therefore we should be sympathetic on our neighbor Mexico. Yes, they are illegal immigrants, yes we profit from them centuries.Yes they cause problems.Yes,we cause problems to them too
    We can´t without them and vice versa.WHo is ginna buy our expensive cars and products?But this is not an economical issue,but common sense. The border will be forever.So what is the outcome,if we blame them for everything?The Bush era is over,lets wake up.build the USA anew, make friends with all our neighbors or at least respected mutual trustees.
    The US is depending on the rest of the world like vice versa.Makes not even 10% of the world population.Blaming others for everything bad happening and prasing yourself for everything positive is not just arrogant, but stupid and finally leads to nowhere.We can solve and leand at the same time, in fact solving instead of blaming guarantees you ,us North Americans to lead by example, not guns or mistrust.
    And please, leave the hype behind as well,its distraction,not solution based.
    Anyone interested in swine flu facts please visit the World Health Organisaion website for solid zero-hype information. Another good source I found was basic,but still informative was on activagers, the boomers website form the UK.

    April 29, 2009 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mike Roe

    Swine Flu – Folks on TV keep saying "Wash your hands, wash your hands ....etc" Then we see pictures of people with paper masks on their face. Would it be better to wear gloves?

    May 1, 2009 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Gordon Taplin

    There have been reports that this virus is relatively "mild" in terms of expected fatalities due to the fact it lacks a certain amino acid as part of the virus make-up.

    How would the virus "acquire" the missing amino acid and could that happen spontaneously as part of its evolution/mutation?

    May 1, 2009 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.