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The flu epidemic in Mexico: the challenges for doctors

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 05 May 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1820
  1. Julio Sotelo, national commissioner of the Institutes of Health and Specialty Hospitals of Mexico,
  2. Rogelio Perez-Padilla, general director, National Institute of Respiratory Diseases of Mexico
  1. jsotelo{at}

    The statistics usually reported in epidemics are morbidity and mortality, together with the economic costs. However, the consequences of epidemics are much wider, affecting the very roots of society and modifying doctors’ practice.

    Recent widespread reports of severe pneumonia in Mexico could have been the first signs of the much feared flu pandemic. The combination of social and medical circumstances around the initial cases that led to the public announcement of an epidemic was a powerful catalyst for a range of reactions and even economic crisis—in a country whose economy is already in difficulty. There is an old popular saying here, “If the United States sneezes, Mexico gets pneumonia.” Now we can say “Mexico gets swine flu”: the first cases of swine flu were detected in the United States, but the epidemic has been most severe in Mexico.

    Doctors are used to dealing not just with patients’ illnesses but also the patients’ feelings of vulnerability and related fears, of varying sorts and magnitudes. But in an epidemic there are also community and family worries to contend with, in addition to those of the …

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