Swine flu, which has killed an undetermined number of people in Mexico (the original death toll of over 150 looks as if it will be revised down on testing) and one child in the USA, has now spread to Europe, Israel and New Zealand, leading to speculation that it may be the cause of a new pandemic. Despite official denials that they could be the original source of the disease, over 400 residents of La Gloria have suffered from flu since early February, which they blame on a large industrial pig farm partly owned by American conglomerate Smithfield Foods. Even if another source is found, this highlights the horrendous polluted conditions such agribusiness causes, with the foul stench, swarms of flies and respiratory infections.
In this period of decomposing capitalism we see more new diseases caused by the relentless search for profit, particularly when it sits cheek by jowl with grinding poverty. Combine that with increased travel and transport and there is the potential for the rapid global spread of epidemics.
There have been three flu pandemics in the 20th Century, and in 1919 just after the First World War it was particularly deadly. Whether or not Mexican swine flu causes a new pandemic, we have to ask why the media and politicians are making so much of it at this stage. They are spreading panic when the extent of the threat is not yet clear. Right now the greatest danger to human life is not pandemic flu but the economic crisis - remember last year's food riots round the world. Recently we have been asked to focus our attention on almost anything else - MPs' expenses, bankers' pensions, injustice to Gurkhas... but now the risk of pandemic flu has come along it has great advantages for capital. It appears to be a natural disaster, and politicians can portray themselves as caring, preparing the response to protect us from this danger. When they make such claims, remember how many hospital beds we have lost over the last few decades, the efficiency savings in the NHS, and just how much that will undermine the response to any health emergency.