Mexican Pig Farming Town Under The Microscope

Dr. Pablo Rafael Alba visits Jorge Trinidad Garcia, 11, at his home in La Gloria, Mexico i i

hide captionDr. Pablo Rafael Alba visits Jorge Trinidad Garcia, 11, at his home in La Gloria, a small town in Mexico where officials confirmed one of the first flu cases in the country. Jorge's family is awaiting results of a test for the swine flu virus.

Carrie Kahn/NPR
Dr. Pablo Rafael Alba visits Jorge Trinidad Garcia, 11, at his home in La Gloria, Mexico

Dr. Pablo Rafael Alba visits Jorge Trinidad Garcia, 11, at his home in La Gloria, a small town in Mexico where officials confirmed one of the first flu cases in the country. Jorge's family is awaiting results of a test for the swine flu virus.

Carrie Kahn/NPR
Swine Flu Photo Gallery

Worrying In La Gloria

In a now-daily routine, residents of La Gloria, a farming village in the Mexican state of Veracruz, line up outside the new clinic complaining of respiratory symptoms.

Juan Mendoza Herrera, a 35-year-old farmer, with his wife and 3-year-old son, stand under the ferocious sun, waiting their turn.

The government has been bombarding the village with ads urging people to visit the clinic if they experience flu symptoms.

La Gloria is home to Edgar Hernandez, a 5-year-old boy who tested positive for swine flu and is believed to be among the earliest known cases in Mexico. Since late March, more than half of the town's 3,000 people have complained of flu symptoms.

Mendoza's son has been suffering a cough for days and has kidney pain, but they haven't yet seen a doctor.

"We are poor, and we don't have insurance," Mendoza says. Like many small farmers, Mendoza doesn't qualify for the federal health care program. "A doctor's visit and blood tests alone can run around 1,000 pesos," about $72, Mendoza says, "and I barely make 200 pesos a week."

But the family is grateful to be able to see a doctor and get medicine free of charge, at least on this day.

La Gloria sits in Perote Valley, a dusty, windy agricultural area where many roads are unpaved and the soil is made up of fine sand. Mendoza and others in the community blame pig waste and government neglect for contamination in the valley.

"Our sewage system is not finished, and everything ends up in the fields. The smells around here are so horrible, and we breathe it all the time," he says.

— Marisa Penaloza

Health officials in Mexico are closely monitoring the swine flu outbreak in a small town about 250 miles northeast of Mexico City where officials confirmed one of the first flu cases in the country.

The dusty streets of La Gloria are usually pretty quiet. At least, they were until Mexican officials sent in brigades of doctors and nurses to combat the outbreak.

Dr. Pablo Rafael Alba visits one home. Jorge Trinidad Garcia, 11, answers the door wearing a blue mask, then runs to get his mom.

Soccorro Garcia Quiroz tells the doctor that her son first got sick Sunday. He was feeling better but now has another fever. Alba takes Jorge's temperature and looks down his throat.

Doctors already have sent a sample from Jorge to test for the swine flu virus. While they wait for the results, Alba tells Jorge's mom that she should increase his dosage of pills from three to four times a day.

Flu doesn't usually make the evening news in La Gloria, where flu season usually peaks around December. So when 60 percent of the town got sick in late March, Regional Health Commissioner Jorge Uscanga Munoz says, authorities took notice. Doctors and nurses were sent to town and treated half the population within a week.

Soon after, health officials confirmed that the town had one of Mexico's first known cases of swine flu. The fact that La Gloria is surrounded by hog farms drew much attention. Officials have brought in unprecedented resources to combat the virus.

Guadalupe Serrano, who has lived in La Gloria all his life, says officials have never paid this much attention to the town. He says for years they ignored residents' complaints that contaminants from nearby hog farms were making them sick.

The owners of the largest hog farm in the valley, located just five miles from town, were more than happy to show it off. Tito Tablado, spokesman for Granjas Carroll de Mexico Hog Farm, which is co-owned by Smithfield Farms of North Carolina, greets reporters and takes a small group around the perimeter of the farm.

About 17,000 hogs are housed in 18 barns. The entire operation is surrounded by an electrified metal fence. Tablado says the reporters can't go in and see the hogs for liability reasons, but the journalists can hear and smell them.

Tablado walks the reporters out to the farm's gigantic covered manure pile and water reservoir. There are no flies anywhere. Residents claim the farm is disgusting — a fly-filled mess.

Tablado says the farm is always clean, adding that the hogs are regularly vaccinated and have never tested positive for the swine flu virus. But he says the company will comply with calls from officials and send samples to U.S. labs.

In town, health care workers hand out decongestants and pain relievers from the back of a white pickup. Speakers on top of Maria Gancedo Torres' house blare a message for residents to get medical attention.

Torres has been the town's ad agency for years. Before the outbreak, her announcements were about sales of great-tasting sausages or about the shoe salesman being in town.

Radio story produced by Marisa Penaloza.

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