Health officials in Mexico are attempting to zero in on the source of the swine flu that threatens to turn into a pandemic. The current theory is that it began with a young boy who lived near a large pig farm in Veracruz, Mexico. Then the disease spread rapidly through Mexico City, a crowded metropolis of 20 million people. When I heard about the epidemic, my first thought was this: It’s connected to water.
Here’s my theory: In early February, Mexico City began severe water rationing, reducing or completely cutting off water to 5.5 million people. The reason was the city is facing dangerously low water supplies, due to water mismanagement, reduced rainfall, and sprawling development. It was announced that the water shut-offs would continue until the rainy season, which begins in May. Between the lack of access to water, or households saving the precious water they had, I think it’s possible that many people stopped washing their hands.
The Center for Disease Control is recommending hand washing as a prevention against swine flu, and it’s been shown to protect against respiratory disease infection in general. So if people are living in a crowded city, and they’re not washing their hands as normal due to water shortages, the lapse of basic sanitation might create perfect conditions for a flu that jumps from person to person.
I haven’t yet seen any reports linking the water shortages to the spread of swine flu. That means my theory is the totally unscientific product of my own cognitive connections. But I think it may prove to be an interesting connection. Feel free to weigh in with your own wacky theories about the swine flu, or prove me wrong. And not to be your mom or anything, but remember to wash your hands.
Learning to love science. As a producer for EarthSky, Lindsay Patterson interviews some of the world's most fascinating scientists. Through EarthSky, her work content is syndicated on some of the world's top media websites, including USAToday.com and Reuters.com. Patterson is also charged with helping to stay in steady communication with the thousands of scientists who contribute to EarthSky's work of making the voice of science heard in a noisy world. She graduated from Colorado College with a degree in creative writing, and a keen interest in all forms of journalism and media.