TOPICS > Health

H1N1 Flu Virus Death Toll Reaches 42 in Mexico

May 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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In the latest of a series of reports from Mexico City, Ray Suarez provides an update on how the H1N1 flu virus is affecting the city as the death toll climbed to 42.

GWEN IFILL: The number of flu cases in the U.S. kept growing to more than 640, and the death toll in Mexico rose to 42. For more about the developments in Mexico, we’re joined by Ray Suarez. He’s been reporting with our “Global Health” team on-air and online from Mexico City all week.

Hello, Ray. So we know about this new death toll today. What else have we learned?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, along with the slowly rising death toll and the slowly rising number of confirmed cases that are still in the hospital, there is some sense of satisfaction among the Mexican leadership here, but the president said he’s not ready to call it a victory yet.

He praised his countrymen for the efforts that they made in keeping their distance, in keeping clean, in limiting the spread of the disease. But the Mexican leadership at the Department of Health, the mayor of Mexico City, the president himself have all called on Mexicans to remain with the measures that were used during the emergency period: staying masked, washing their hands frequently, washing the things they use and touch during the day.

And as this city opened for business again and we walked and ran around the city, you could see that some people were taking that message seriously, but others have already dropped the mask, thinking that the worst has passed.

Businesses struggle after outbreak

GWEN IFILL: So the city is getting somewhat back to normal, which is to say its normal chaotic self. Is it fully back up to speed, or is it just gradually getting there?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you'd be surprised what a difference the lifting of those emergency measures made. Almost immediately, the traffic was back. People were opening businesses again. But the workers of Mexico City sadly have concluded it will take them months to recoup the losses of the last dozen or so days.

I spoke to one haberdasher as he opened his shop for business this morning, and he said not only did he have to pay his rent, pay his electric bill for the lights and so on, he paid his staff, but no money was coming in because he was closed, of course, but also his clientele, the people who would be buying the suits from him, were also either on short wages or no wages at all, so they may have needed a suit the week before last, but now that he's open again, they won't be coming in to buy one because they simply can't afford it.

One woman who sells lottery tickets was sitting in her booth on a very busy commercial street, but said that last week the street was so dead that she was afraid to be there by herself, closed up the lottery ticket shop, and went home. And she gets 7 percent on the sale of every ticket, and this put a tremendous hit on her very meager income.

And, finally, a waiter this morning said that, while he did receive his wages, the emergency period was one where he took a tremendous hit because waiters make up so much of their income in tips. And, of course, with people using takeout food or with no customers coming at all, there were no tips to be had.

Restaurants are under particular pressure now, even as they reopen, set out their tables again, because new regulations in effect, even with the lifting of the emergency, mean that they will have fewer tables in their establishments. They will be able to seat fewer people and serve fewer people to keep people further apart from each other. So, even as they try to recoup business, they just simply won't be able to serve as many paying customers.

Full extent of the outbreak

GWEN IFILL: So, Ray, even as this epidemic, or whatever it is, actually peaks or begins to fade somewhat, will we ever know the full extent of it, the full extent of illness, and full extent of the deaths that it caused?

RAY SUAREZ: The secretary of health has said we may never really know how many Mexicans died from the H1N1 virus. In the early days, before doctors here knew what they were dealing with, there were people who died almost immediately, having come into the hospital very sick in mid-April, and were buried before tissue samples or fluid samples could be taken that could be annualized to check for this new form of the virus.

So there are estimates. But the estimates really are ranging all over the place, as people are starting to look back at records, see patients who died from flu-like symptoms where flu was neither ruled in or ruled out, and those are just going to have to go into a catch-all category of suspected cases.

The secretary of health, Jose Angel Cordova, said that the flu itself will "diminish, but not disappear." And speaking to the people of Mexico City today, the mayor said, "Before, we were living in a state of emergency of imminent danger. Now we're going to have to learn to live alongside this virus, so now it's a different relationship."

GWEN IFILL: Ray, thanks for all your good work in Mexico this week. Stay safe.

RAY SUAREZ: Good to talk to you, Gwen.