Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mexican Pig Farming Town Under The Microscope by Carrie Kahn

Health officials in Mexico are closely monitoring the swine flu outbreak in a small town about 250 miles northeast of Mexico City where officials confirmed one of the first flu cases in the country.

The dusty streets of La Gloria are usually pretty quiet. At least, they were until Mexican officials sent in brigades of doctors and nurses to combat the outbreak.

Dr. Pablo Rafael Alba visits one home. Jorge Trinidad Garcia, 11, answers the door wearing a blue mask, then runs to get his mom.

Soccorro Garcia Quiroz tells the doctor that her son first got sick Sunday. He was feeling better but now has another fever. Alba takes Jorge's temperature and looks down his throat.

Doctors already have sent a sample from Jorge to test for the swine flu virus. While they wait for the results, Alba tells Jorge's mom that she should increase his dosage of pills from three to four times a day.

Flu doesn't usually make the evening news in La Gloria, where flu season usually peaks around December. So when 60 percent of the town got sick in late March, Regional Health Commissioner Jorge Uscanga Munoz says, authorities took notice. Doctors and nurses were sent to town and treated half the population within a week.

Soon after, health officials confirmed that the town had one of Mexico's first known cases of swine flu. The fact that La Gloria is surrounded by hog farms drew much attention. Officials have brought in unprecedented resources to combat the virus.

Guadalupe Serrano, who has lived in La Gloria all his life, says officials have never paid this much attention to the town. He says for years they ignored residents' complaints that contaminants from nearby hog farms were making them sick.

The owners of the largest hog farm in the valley, located just five miles from town, were more than happy to show it off. Tito Tablado, spokesman for Granjas Carroll de Mexico Hog Farm, which is co-owned by Smithfield Farms of North Carolina, greets reporters and takes a small group around the perimeter of the farm.

About 17,000 hogs are housed in 18 barns. The entire operation is surrounded by an electrified metal fence. Tablado says the reporters can't go in and see the hogs for liability reasons, but the journalists can hear and smell them.

Tablado walks the reporters out to the farm's gigantic covered manure pile and water reservoir. There are no flies anywhere. Residents claim the farm is disgusting — a fly-filled mess.

Tablado says the farm is always clean, adding that the hogs are regularly vaccinated and have never tested positive for the swine flu virus. But he says the company will comply with calls from officials and send samples to U.S. labs.

In town, health care workers hand out decongestants and pain relievers from the back of a white pickup. Speakers on top of Maria Gancedo Torres' house blare a message for residents to get medical attention.

Torres has been the town's ad agency for years. Before the outbreak, her announcements were about sales of great-tasting sausages or about the shoe salesman being in town.

NPR link

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