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201 in april 2009, a new strain of influenza virus called H1N1, also known as “swine flu,” began to spread throughout Mexico (reported first in the state of Veracruz) with such alarming rapidity that in less than one month, over four hundred Mexicans had been infected and nineteen had died from the virus.1 Schools were closed, sporting events cancelled, and businesses shuttered. As of this writing, there have been 70,665 confirmed cases of H1N1 across thirty-two Mexican states and 1,052 deaths.2 On a global level, international organizations warned that this particular strain of influenza could morph into something worse than the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic that killed at least fifty million people worldwide.3 H1N1 was dubbed “swine flu” since it was at first thought to be a respiratory disease that usually infects pigs; however, further study revealed that this “novel form of influenza” contained two flu viruses that circulate in Europe and North America among pigs, birds, and humans.4 The latest estimates from the WHO (World Health Organization) now place worldwide deaths from H1N1 at 18,366.5 In the relatively short span of time in which the news about the virus broke, the damage to Mexico was nothing short of stunning. Within days, the international news media had located and focused on the small community of La Gloria in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz as “ground zero” for H1N1.6 This obsession with the origination of the virus cast Mexico on the world stage as a principal harbinger.7 As Newsweek noted at the time, “Fingers are now pointing , either at the entire pig species Sus domestica, or at the nation of Mexico.”8 On April 25, 2009, the WHO announced that H1N1 constituted a “public health Afterword H1N1 and the Legacy of Uncertainty } afterword 202 emergency of international concern,”9 and by June, the WHO declared H1N1 pandemic. Responses to the H1N1 pandemic ran the gamut from officially enacted trade restrictions on Mexican agricultural exports to travel bans, while at the same time the media generated a broad stigmatization of peoples associated with viral epicenters both at home and abroad. Tourism, Mexico’s third most profitable national industry, sustained a decline of 0.3 to 0.5 percent in just a few weeks.10 Mexican tourists traveling abroad and Mexican immigrants working in the United States suffered detainment and discrimination. These reactions are part of a phenomenon that Georgetown professor of global health law Lawrence O. Gostin categorizes as “social distancing.”11 Some of these reactions are similar to those we have seen in the context of nineteenth-century pandemics and bear the familiar imprint of paranoia, fear, and overreaction. As we have seen, the relationships of people and animals— the spaces we share, the treatment animals are accorded, their “dirtiness” or “cleanliness”—suddenly become visible in a disease moment. Our old habits of accusing the “other” of harboring or spreading infection tend to resurface at this point, and official reactions employ “social distancing” to regulate various international flows of goods and people, as the presence of Mexican goods and the presence of Mexican people are linked by state regulators and some sectors of public opinion to the disease. Most people understand that influenza spreads from person to person. Thus, fear and uncertainty about persons from regions known to have an active outbreak of influenza or those exhibiting signs of illness often provoke overreaction. China and Hong Kong implemented some of the most aggressive measures to control the spread of H1N1 by quarantining travelers from Mexico, Canada, and the United States during the epidemic.12 Singapore summarily isolated anyone who had recently visited Mexico, and in northeastern China twenty-two Canadian university students were quarantined at their hotel in Changchun despite the fact they exhibited no signs of the flu.13 Taxi drivers, restaurants, and other small businesses denied Mexican tourists in Argentina out of fear for their own health.14 Israel’s deputy health minister decided to rename swine flu the “Mexican flu” because of its reference to an “unkosher” animal.15 Although this unintentional “slip of the tongue” made by the Israeli minister stemmed from his affiliation with a fervently religious party, scientists in Israel conceded that renaming the epidemic could stigmatize Mexico.16 Shortly after Israel’s announcement about the renaming of the swine flu, Mexican ambassador to Israel Frederico Salas stated he was “offended” by the term.17 The renaming of H1N1 and the Legacy of...


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