Hmmm... I swear I'd made a update of this on one of my last entries. Well, no matter.
As I wrote earlier, a company called Veratect reported that they were the fist to detect the swine flu outbreak in Mexico since late March. Veratect was able to accomplish this by "by monitoring social media and combining that with official reports. What they do differently is put men on the ground, hiring local analysts to contextualise their data" (Guardian). I questioned the motives that prevented them to inform directly the government of Mexico, instead of going to the CDC and the WHO.
I first learned about this story from the newspaper Reforma, who wrote that Veratect had informed about the outbreak on April 2nd.
Wired picked the story, but here the dates don't match:
Veratect, a Seattle-based biosurveillance startup, claims they alerted the Centers for Disease Control to the situation in Mexico — where health officials suspect swine flu has killed up to 149 people — on April 16, before even the Mexican health authorities declared a problem.
April 16th? This is confusing.
“Wilson said they recognized the problem might become particularly bad because the Catholic holy week, known in Mexico as La Semana Santa, occurred from April 5 to 12. The holiday increases the amount of travel within the country, creating the perfect opportunity for the disease to spread.
From this article, you get the impression that Veratect learned about the possible outbreak threat from reports and chats of people discussing events linked to the disease. So that would mean they might have been detecting the reports coming from Veracruz and La Gloria, where the inhabitants were complaining of respiratory diseases provoked by Granjas Carroll since at least two months ago —the Health Department claims they did go and investigate, and they also claim they did find a 4-year-old child infected with swine flu; they confirmed it was the strand H1N1 after other reports were coming from other parts of the country, when they sent the samples to be analyzed abroad.
Like I wrote on the Wired comment section, I want to know why they didn't care to inform the Mexican authorities about it, since the Mexican government is stubbornly sticking to their story that they didn’t knew about the outbreak since last week (April 23d according to official records).
I also want to know, if the CDC was informed about this threat on April 16th, then why didn’t they inform Barack Obama prior to his visit to Mexico?? What's the point of turning the hotel where the most powerful man in the world spends the night into an impenetrable bunker, if you fail to protect him from a microscopic threat brought not by terrorists or criminals, but unaware friendly civilians shaking hands?
Today Reforma published an interview to a spokesman of Veratect, who told the reporter that the reason they didn't tink of contacting Mexican authorities directly, was because they "are a private company with no deals of relationships with foreign governments". They still claim they informed the Panamerican branch of the WHO, and they're washing their hands by insisting that "it was up to WHO to forewarn Mexico" about the impending swine flu threat. (I'll try to link this as soon as it's available in English)
It might be possible that Veratect failed to inform Mexico for a more simple reason: because they assumed that Mexican Health authorities were already aware of the first cases and the possibility of an outbreak; but since the Mexican government tried to save face by insisting they confirmed the outbreak on the late date of April 23d, Veratect —a small startup— wants to clear out of any controversial diplomatic quarrell and chooses to say that they preferred to inform of their results through the "proper channels" (the CDC & the WHO).
There are many things that remain unclear. HOW did the virus jump from pigs to humans crossing the intra-species barrier. WHERE did it originate, and WHY did it spread so rapidly before measures to contain it were implemented. Mexican authorities insist they have done all they can and even more, and that they have been transparent and honest since the beginning. Some people question this, and I am one of them.
Did the Mexican government waste precious days to determine that the flu cases on Veracruz were not your average seasonal flu but something far more dangerous? Was the delay to analyze the samples due to the fact that the lab work coincided with the Easter holidays, and nobody wants to work during the Catholic Holy week in Mexico —not even with a pandemic thread looming?
And I also want to know what role the Granjas Carroll pig farm played, if any, in this outbreak. Is it possible that the wastes from the farm (fecal matter that contaminated the water reservoirs of the nearby population, flies clouding over the foul oxidation pools, dead carcasses lying around on the open, etc) were the original contagion vector between pigs and humans?
But, if that's the case, then what about the first reports of the swine flu by the CDC, in California & Texas? Did the outbreak come from a migrant worker returning to his/her hometown in Mexico for the holidays, as the government speculates?
Questions. Questions. Questions. Questions. Questions... :-/
[UPDATE]The first sequencing analysis of the influenza strand from the first cases reported by the CDC in California, seem to point out that the flu virus is a hybrid of two pig flu strands; not a mixture of pig, human & avian fly. This according to the geneticists of the University of Edinborough, as Wired reports:
“This is what we call a reassortment between two currently circulating pig flu viruses,” said Andrew Rambaut, a University of Edinborough viral geneticist. “Why it’s emerged in humans is anyone’s guess. It hasn’t been seen before in pigs as far as I know.”
Rambaut analyzed the gene sequences of viral samples taken from two infected California children. The samples were collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and made available to researchers through an international database of flu genomes.
This flu business is starting to make the UFO mystery easy a piece of cake by comparison!!! Brain... melting down...
And this new Wired article is also mentioning the Granjas Carroll as a piece of the puzzle:
However, understanding the origins could eventually help scientists determine how the virus evolved and where it originally emerged.
The earliest cases occurred in the town of La Gloria in the Mexican state of Veracruz, not far from a large and notoriously unsanitary hog farm operated by Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of giant American food company Smithfield Foods.
Vercruz residents and some journalists have alleged that the virus could have evolved in the farm’s pigs, then passed into humans through water or insects tainted by infected waste. Many researchers, including the authors of a report issued last year by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, have warned that unsanitary conditions at industrial hog farms could prove a breeding ground for new forms of influenza.
The World Health Organization has sent inspectors to the Granjas Carroll farm. The results of the investigation have not been announced. Smithfield issued a press release on Saturday stating that “it has found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine influenza in the company’s swine herd or its employees at its joint ventures in Mexico.” The company declined further comment, though CEO Larry Pope told USA Today that “(The term) swine flu is a misnomer.”
Rambaut, Holmes and Salzberg declined to speculate on whether the new H1N1 virus evolved on a hog farm or specifically in the Granjas Carroll facility.
However, it seems likely that pigs were the original host.
Help me out here, guys! >_<