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Diane Francis

Diane Francis

Posted April 29, 2009 | 12:15 PM (EST)

Mexico Flu Epidemic a Bunch of Media Bunk


Facts are that if there's a flu pandemic it's in the United States, not Mexico. Some 36,000 Americans died of influenza-induced illness in the last few years or 99 per day which happens to be four times' the current death rate in Mexico.

And the reason is probably due to the lousy U.S. health "care" system which doesn't look after tens of millions of people.

As CNN's hokey Sanjay Gupta (who has the health care thing totally wrong) roams around Mexico City looking for people with face masks and sad stories, he and the other so-called health experts ignore America's flu "pandemic or epidemic." Go figure. Mexico has lost 150 people so far and America 36,000 in 12 months.

Despite these insignificant figures, the media at first billed this as a pandemic, then downgraded to an epidemic. Soon it will be an outbreak, but, frankly, it should be a media scandal.

Part of the reason is that the real news -- the economic meltdown and attempts to right the world's listing ship -- is not telegenic. If the G20 leaders wore face masks or balaclavas every day, like the street protesters, they would be dominating TV coverage. If Iraq hadn't dragged on so long, and wasn't so expensive to cover for the dying television networks, it would dominate.

But now it's poor old Mexico on a slow news week. The flu is a made-for-TV illness that is about as serious as SARs was in Toronto, Vancouver, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia a few years ago. SARs was a killer, costing a couple of dozen lives in total, but was ridiculously overblown.

I feel badly for Mexico because the country depends on tourism, trade and remittance payments by illegals working in the US. and these businesses will suffer as people avoid the place due to all this publicity.

As Canada found with SARs, some of the hype is fanned by American or other tourism/trade/convention rivals. When Toronto was the center of attention during the brief and small SARs outbreak, convention industry rivals worked the phones for days scaring people and conferences away from arch-rival Toronto with great success. Mexico will suffer the same fate as other sun-tan bearing regimes will swing into action to steal tourists away for years, maybe forever.

Another nasty impact will be that this will also be exploited by American protectionists who will use the disease as reason to tighten the border even more than is already the case, bringing about more hardship for an already struggling and poor nation.

Hopefully the hype will shift to more appropriate disasters like Darfur or Tibet or Pakistan but don't count on it. The big networks cover everything that photographs, not everything that's important or truly newsworthy, and always will.