Medical experts are calling the new influenza virus A (H1N1), but for many Mexicans it is simply a scarlet A.
From Chile, where sports officials declined to host Mexican soccer teams, to China, where the authorities forced even healthy resident Mexicans and Mexican travelers into quarantine, Mexicans say they have been typecast as disease carriers and subjected to humiliating treatment.
Only one in one million Mexicans is thought to have been infected by the virus, and Mexico is one of 21 countries that have confirmed cases of the disease. But nonstop media coverage of a feared pandemic and the belief that the sometimes fatal virus originated in Mexico — which is disputed by Mexican health experts and officials — have overwhelmed calls by global health authorities to avoid panic while preparing for a broader outbreak.
Scientists have yet to pinpoint the origin of the virus, the earliest cases of which were found in the southwestern United States and in various parts of Mexico. But according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it contains genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia, as well as avian and human genes. Some health experts say it also appears to be less deadly than once feared.
The most aggressive response has come from China and Hong Kong, still gripped by memories of SARS. That virus spread widely in 2003 and killed more than 700 people, partly because of efforts by the Chinese government to suppress news of the disease.
On Saturday, Chinese authorities began confining dozens of seemingly healthy Mexicans to hotels and hospitals, even escorting some from their hotels in the middle of the night for testing, Mexican consular officials said Monday.
Chinese officials said they were seeking to isolate passengers on an aircraft that had at least one infected passenger, but the Mexican government accused China of unfairly quarantining its citizens and acting without regard to accepted public health practices.
Mexican diplomats were also angered by the suspension by four Latin American nations — Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Cuba — of flights from Mexico in response to the flu outbreak.
In another dispute, Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova of Mexico said he had received an apology from Chile after sports officials there turned down a request to host two Mexican soccer teams’ championship games.
China’s actions posed the biggest challenge — and elicited the sharpest response. Mexico said it would fly its citizens home from China on a chartered flight on Tuesday, including 70 people being held in quarantine.
Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, lashed out on Sunday at countries that he said were “acting out of ignorance and disinformation” and taking “repressive, discriminatory measures.” He did not name any countries.
The foreign minister, Patricia Espinosa, urged Mexicans to stay away from China and Hong Kong, calling their actions “unjustified.”