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Epidemic escapee: Student flees flu in Mexico City

by Lisa Provence
published 12:59pm Tuesday Apr 28, 2009
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news-laura-burnsNelson County native Laura Burns snaps a photo of herself in the taxi that takes her to the airport.

Laura Burns didn’t realize how bad the swine flu epidemic was until her classes in Mexico City were canceled Friday, April 24. Even then, she thought it was just for one day.

“They canceled classes in all schools,” recounts Burns, a former Hook intern who’s doing graduate work in international relations at La Universidad Iberoamericana and who describes her adventure on her blog. “On Saturday, they announced they were canceled until May 6.”

She began hearing more on the news about the swine flu outbreak in the city of 8.8 million, and the news was getting more dramatic.

“The mayor started talking about canceling public transportation and suspending all activity,” she says. “I went out on Saturday night, and all the bars were closed. It was like a ghost town.”

By Sunday, April 26, Burns decided to return home to Charlottesville. She already had a ticket to come back May 6 for her sister’s medical school graduation, and she changed the ticket.

The airport scene Monday was calm, says Burns, with most people wearing masks. “I wore one the whole airplane ride because planes are infamous for being spreaders of disease,” she says.

At the airport in Mexico City, surveys were passed out that asked people if they were sick or had any symptoms of swine flu and suggested they not fly if they did, but Burns didn’t observe anyone being prevented from flying.

There was one more trauma before Burns could leave Mexico.

“The earthquake was the day I was leaving,” she says of the Acapulco-centered 5.6 tremor felt in Mexico City. “It was the apocalypse,” she half jokes.

Also landing in Charlottesville from Mexico on Tuesday, April 24 was former Mexican president Vicente Fox, who was the keynote speaker at this year’s Latin American Student Association conference at UVA’s Darden School of Business. Fox took time away from his lecture on leadership in a globalized economy to address the swine flu outbreak.

“I think President [Felipe] Calderon is doing a great job making courageous decisions like closing all of the schools,” Fox told the hundreds gathered at the Darden School.

Fox says based on preparations his administration made before his term was up in 2006, he believes the Mexican government should be able to mitigate the effects of the epidemic.

“In my administration, in 2005, we came out of meetings with American public health officials with a policy that’s this thick,” said Fox separating his hands by about a foot. “We bought millions of vaccines. The problem is you don’t know which vaccines to use until you know what the virus is. Everyone needs to collaborate so we can identify the virus and distribute the vaccines as quickly as possible.”

At press time, 152 deaths in Mexico City were suspected of being caused by swine flu.

–updated April 28 at 5:02pm

  • Mike Wiszowski April 28th, 2009 | 1:57 pm

    I was wondering where the Hook’s coverage of this potential pandemic was!

  • Ann April 28th, 2009 | 5:20 pm

    During Gerald Ford’s administration large numbers of people were treated for swine flu with a vaccine that sickened and ultimately killed far more people than the flu did. People are now rushing out stockpiling anti-viral drugs which taken without cause can have their own serious side-effects. Best to proceed cautiously in reacting to this news

  • Yawn April 28th, 2009 | 6:20 pm

    This is a non-story pumped up to ridiculous proportions by a dying news media looking for a raison d’etre.

    Everyone knows the only way to get swine flu in C-ville is to swing by The Darden School where the pigs count their peanuts and plot world domination, at which they might be successful were they not forever wallowing in their own swine filth and breathing of their own fumes.

  • Reader April 28th, 2009 | 8:40 pm

    That’s JUST FANTASTIC. Thanks for the heads up, Hook.

    Since ANY FLU can have an incubation period of a number of days, people who know LAURA BURNS can now STAY AWAY from her. About six feet away.

    Vicente Fox is a JACKA$$ for traveling, when his country has known about this flu, and deaths, since APRIL 12.

    ANY flu virus can live IN THE AIR and on SURFACES for several hours.

    *Wash hands frequently
    *Avoid touching nose, mouth, eyes
    *Use antibacterial gel when not near water
    *Avoid those with signs of illness
    *If you’re sick, stay home. Nobody will miss you.

    There is no vaccine for this flu, which is comprised of bird, swine, and human influenza viruses.

    This flu is resistant to two kinds of antiviral drugs. An antiviral drug is not a “cure;” it reduces the amount of virus in the body if taken within 45 hours of first symptoms.

    Get the facts at

    @CDCEmergency on Twitter, which gives news and info on how to protect yourself.

    Otherwise, skip the Twitter feeds.

    OR: cdc.gov/swineflu

    @Yawn, Do you really think you’re getting the entire picture from the media? You’re not. Watch as the number of confirmed cases and deaths jumps exponentially in the next few days.

  • Yawn April 28th, 2009 | 9:21 pm

    Dear Reader,

    You are dumb as a sack of gravel. Verily.

    Love and rockets,

    …still yawning.

  • hawes April 28th, 2009 | 9:40 pm

    I must respond. Not to Yawn who is bored by it all, but to Ann who misstates what happened during the Ford Administration. Yes, there was an uptick in reports of Guillain-Barr Syndrome, a potentially serious condition, but as I read in Gina Kolata’s fascinating book, Flu, the incidents of Gullain-Barre were not conclusively tied to the vaccine and that it was a pannicked Ford Administration that fueled the rumor of the link by suddenly yanking the vaccine.

  • James Huron April 28th, 2009 | 9:54 pm

    Hawes, nevertheless, the Fed Gov paid millions of dollars in damages to the GB syndrome sufferers. GB has been linked to other vaccines as well.

    Yawn, you sound like the kind of dipsh*t who cares only about himself; love and rockets to you during this “Public Health Emergency.” May you remain cavalierly healthy no matter what kind of bug is around.

    From http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu:

    How does swine flu spread?
    Spread of this swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is thought to be happening in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

    How can someone with the flu infect someone else?
    Infected people may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 7 or more days after becoming sick. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

    What should I do to keep from getting the flu?
    First and most important: wash your hands. Try to stay in good general health. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food. Try not touch surfaces that may be contaminated with the flu virus. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

  • Ann April 28th, 2009 | 9:54 pm

    Thanks Hawes, that’s very interesting –guess you can’t necessarily believe everything you hear on NPR . Seems to be a difference of opinion about the cause of the Guillain-Barr Syndrome and it’s connection to the flu vaccine. I’ll read Ms. Kolata’s book to learn more

  • Ann April 28th, 2009 | 10:05 pm

    this was the swine flu program on NPR

    Monday April 27, 2009


    The U.S. has declared a “public health emergency” as several countries investigated suspected cases of swine flu that has been identified in Mexico, the United States and Canada. Diane and her guests will discuss the latest on the swine flu outbreak.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIH

    Dr. Andrew Pekosz, is a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Johns Hopkins University.

  • Ann April 28th, 2009 | 10:14 pm

    sorry this was the story about the Ford Administration and Swine Flu
    on NPR

    Lessons From 1976 Flu Vaccinations

    by Scott Horsley

    Listen Now [3 min 47 sec]

    All Things Considered, April 28, 2009 · Thirty-three years ago, the U.S. launched an unprecedented effort to fend off a swine flu epidemic by vaccinating every person. The program was eventually halted when the flu failed to materialize and the vaccine itself was linked to harmful side-effects.


  • George Jefferson April 28th, 2009 | 10:36 pm

    Perhaps Mr Fox should give the folks at Darden a lecture on how to get another country to support 20% of your ppoulation while you sit back and live like a KING.

  • Girl Scout April 28th, 2009 | 10:57 pm

    Vaccine on the way
    “Scientists hope to have a key ingredient for a vaccine ready in early May, but it still will take a few months before any shots are available for the first required safety testing. Using samples of the flu taken from people who fell ill in Mexico and the U.S., scientists are engineering a strain that could trigger the immune system without causing illness.

    “We’re about a third of the way” to that goal, said Dr. Ruben Donis of the CDC.


  • Sue April 29th, 2009 | 8:22 am

    Wash your hands what a concept. Wouldn’t it be great if as a result of this scare people actually did, including health care workers who often don’t. Diseases and deaths from all causes would probably drop precipitously. Oh, and don’t forget– wash for 20 seconds about the time it takes to sing “twinkle twinkle little star”

  • Sick Of The Local Rambos April 29th, 2009 | 12:08 pm

    The death toll now starts……

    WASHINGTON — The first U.S. death from swine flu has been confirmed — a 23-month-old child in Texas — amid increasing global anxiety over a health menace that authorities around the world are struggling to contain.

    The flu death was confirmed Wednesday by Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an interview with CNN, he gave no other details about the child.

  • Sue April 29th, 2009 | 5:10 pm

    Today’s Washington Post story of the first confirmed case in Mexico is worth reading for a fuller understanding of this flu. Hundreds of people in one village of 2,500 are believed to have contracted it but only a small number were tested for swine flu and only a few died. The illnesses began in mid-March. It is doubtful that it is any more serious in Mexico only that it started over a month ago and the rest of the world is just beginning to feel the effects. In a normal flu season thousands of people die even with the flu vaccine having been administered, so don’t be surprised to see people die from this flu. My understanding is that the danger is if the virus mutates to a more lethal form.

  • Sick Of The Local Rambos April 30th, 2009 | 6:11 pm

    Grapevine says a student at Buford School was taken to the hospital by rescue squad yesterday, suspected of having the Swine Flu. Guess we’ll know the outcome in a few days.

  • I'm Just Saying April 30th, 2009 | 9:33 pm

    Thanks, Sick. Please update, even if it’s grapevine.

    W/so many travelers in and out of this area, and with so many students, as well as being just two hours from DC, if it’s not here now, it will be shortly.

    CDC says kids can shed the virus up to 10 days after they get sick; adults, 5 days. Please, if you’re sick or your child is sick, stay home.

    This is common sense even before the World Health Org raised the alert level to 5, which is “pandemic imminent.”

    WHO says local, personal measures are necessary to contain the H1N1 Influenza A (formerly known as swine flu)


  • VA: First 2 cases of Flu April 30th, 2009 | 9:41 pm

    From the DP (sorry, Hook, but some of your readers don’t bother w/the DP, w/good reason:)

    Published: April 30, 2009

    RICHMOND — Virginia officials say they have turned up two probable cases of swine flu in the state.

    State Health Commissioner Karen Remley said the patients are an adult male from eastern Virginia and an adult female from central Virginia.

    Both had traveled to Mexico, had mild illnesses and are recovering well.

    Remley said neither required hospitalization and neither are students.

    Given the state’s population, seasonal travel patterns and the ease with which the flu virus is spread, Remley said there will likely be more cases.

    She encouraged anyone experiencing fever, cough and sore throat to stay home from work or school and call their doctor.

    Read more in Friday’s Daily Progress.

  • Vertico May 1st, 2009 | 2:58 pm

    Wow 2 cases. Can you believe that! I’m leaving the country pronto! I will burn my house and belonging because I know they are infected. I hope I can hold my breath log enough until I get to the border. Being that this is the swine flu I guess as long as I can out run a pig I should be fine right? In case a pig ambushes me and sneezes will that be the end of me or can I out run the blast from it’s sneeze? I NEED ANSWERS! Heck I never saw a pig sneeze before. Is it messy? This is getting scary!!! Maybe I’l put some plastic around myself and duct tape myself up…I have some left from the Cheney era.

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