Wednesday, April 29, 2009

little boy at the center of a viral storm

WaPo | One person who may have helped launch a rapidly spreading flu outbreak likes to draw hearts and flowers in the dirt outside his home. He likes to climb trees and give hugs and play with his soccer ball. And despite a persistent cough, he does not, he insists, feel sick.

"Not anymore," said Édgar Enrique Hernández, a smiling 5-year-old Mexican boy who tested positive for the deadly new strain of swine flu in this windswept valley surrounded by pig-breeding farms. "I feel good."

Although authorities have not determined that swine flu started in La Gloria, a village of about 2,500 people in the state of Veracruz, Édgar, who got sick in late March, is the earliest confirmed case of the virus in Mexico. He was just one of several hundred people from La Gloria and surrounding areas that fell ill around that time in an unexplained outbreak that left two children dead and prompted authorities to fumigate the entire village.

"I don't have words, I don't have answers," said Édgar's mother, María del Carmen Hernández, as she cried under a portrait of Jesus in her living room. "I feel terrible about all of this, because the people are thinking that this was all my son's fault. I don't think this is anyone's fault."

This dust-strewn hamlet of dirt streets surrounded by desert cactus and scrub brush has become a focus of attention for the spread of the virus because of the prevalence of pig farms in the area, and because of Édgar. But the link is far from certain, and infectious-disease specialists stressed that no one has located a pig infected with this particular virus, so proximity between people and pigs may not be all that's required to contract the disease. The strain appears, in fact, to be Eurasian in origin, further adding to the mystery of where it began.