The first death in the US from swine flu in a Texas toddler is being widely reported, but a piece just in from Bloomberg says the infection was acquired in Mexico:
The first confirmed U.S. swine flu death was a 22-month-old child from Mexico, according to a Houston official.
The toddler was brought to Houston for medical care last weekend and died on Monday, Kathy Barton, spokeswoman for the Houston Department of Health and Human Services said today in an interview. (Mary Schlangenstein, Bloomberg)
The national origin of the victim is of some epidemiological import but irrelevant to the human tragedy. The news that a previously healthy 22 month old died from this virus put a human face on the outbreak, even if we don’t know the baby’s name. I have a 23 month old grandson, and while I can at times become hardened to news like this (regrettably), my daughter was very distressed. In place of “22 month old in Texas” she automatically substituted the face of her own little one. There was both fear and profound empathy in her reaction.
Some of the fear will be lessened by the new knowledge that the baby contracted the disease in another country. The empathy remains, as it should. Mexican babies are still babies, loved by their parents and grandparents even while being hostages to fortune like everyone.
As this outbreak moves forward we will be barraged by numbers and statistics. This is a form of spectator sport to which we have become accustomed. We follow baseball, the Dow Jones and public opinion polls.
But these numbers are different. As the late epidemiologist Irving Selikoff once remarked about the horrific toll of asbestos victims, “death statistics are people with the tears wiped away.”