Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu / 2009 H1N1 flu, Politics, and Common Sense: Why Closing the Border Doesn't Make Sense

I'm not all that interested in politics, beyond what's required of a conscientious American citizen: so I don't know whether the politicos who have been trying to close the U.S. - Mexican border are of the 'keep them furriners out' variety, or are taking another tack.

It doesn't matter in a way: with swine flu approaching pandemic status, some of America's leaders want to close the border. It feels right: but doesn't make all that much sense.

"Mexico Shuts Government; Pandemic Imminent"
FOX News (April 30, 2009)

"Mexico's president told citizens on Wednesday to stay home for a five-day partial shutdown of the economy, after the World Health Organization raised its alert level and said a swine flu pandemic was imminent...."

"...'There is no safer place than your own home to avoid being infected with the flu virus,' [Mexican President] Calderon said.

Mexico is taking the drastic step after another 17 deaths were potentially linked to swine flu, bringing the total to as many as 176....

Mexico's government is now taking very serious steps to contain the disease in Mexico. I've read that some people there think there should have been something else done sooner - but that's par for the course in crisis situations. I think it's reasonable to point out that something's being done now.

Meanwhile, closing the border now won't stop the spread of swine flu / influenza A (H1N1). It's spread to America and other Pacific Rim counties, the Middle East: Israel, specifically, and probably beyond.

Closing the Border is Pointless

That's not the 'all hope is lost' statement it may seem. I think there's a very good chance that there won't be as many deaths in this year's influenza A (H1N1) situation as in previous pandemics. We've learned a lot.
Remembering the Black Death
I think that Western cultures learned something from the Black Death: Contagious disease can be a serious problem. This is just speculation, but I think it's possible that the plague that killed about a third of Europe, back in the 14th century, made it easier for European cultures, and those derived from Europe, to recognize rapidly-spreading diseases as serious threats. And, created an enhanced willingness to deal with disease.

I'm not ignoring effects that the plague had on other cultures. I simply don't know enough about cultures in the east end of Eurasia, to have an opinion about how the plague affected them.
Closing the Border: Feels So Good, Doesn't Make Sense
The CDC now is advising no non-essential travel to Mexico (CDC, via CNN, more at "Travel Health Warning / Travel Warning: Swine Influenza and Severe Cases of Respiratory Illness in Mexico — Avoid Nonessential Travel to Mexico" (CDC (April 30, 2009) ) - but I think that's a matter of protecting individuals. Influenza 2009 N1H1 is a horse that's definitely out of the barn - closing the door is pointless.

"At a prime-time news conference, Obama said health officials weren't recommending closing the border with Mexico.

" That, he said, 'would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States.'

"In an interview with Dr. Manny Alvarez on Wednesday, managing editor of health at, Dr. Dalilah Restrpo, an infectious disease specialist at St. Luke's-Roosevelt in New York City drove home the same point.

" 'It's always an tempting strategy to close the door, back off and not let anybody else in, but it doesn't work,' she told Alvarez.

" 'It doesn't work because this type of disease is something where the period of infectiousness is behind you,' she continued. 'By the time the symptoms arrive — it's already too late. At this point, closing the border would make no sense. There are cases all over the world and the virus is already here.'..." (FOX News)

The bottom line seems to be that influenza 2009 H1N1 has spread around the globe, so closing the Mexican-American border would be pointless as far as containing the disease is concerned. On the other hand, it's not exactly smart to travel into an infected area, unless you've got a really good reason. After that, I'd think one would want to think long and hard about going back home - taking the risk of bringing the disease with you.

List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:


Brigid said...

"Swine" flu is in Israel?

That could be used for all sorts of bad jokes.

Anonymous said...

So you disagree with school closures after it has been confirmed that a student has the flu? Same thing. The reason the border isn't closed is all about politics. It is truly disgusting.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


You miss the point. Closing a school after an infection is confirmed eliminates one local source of infection - with relatively little impact on the community, and virtually no impact on the state and national economies.

Like it or not, international travel and trade is very real, and a very important source of revenue for people around the world.

I know that it is "disgusting" that the economic welfare of people has to be considered, as well as their safety, but that's the way it is.

Besides: Although closing the Mexican border before the outbreak was detected would have prevented the spread of the disease, by the time it was detected - influenza 2009 H1N1 was already spreading around the world.

A solution to situations like this would be for all countries to forbid their subjects from traveling to other countries - and for large countries to forbid travel within their borders.

That simply isn't realistic.

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