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Mexican boy's case may provide answers in swine flu outbreak

Edgar Hernandez, 4, became ill last month and recovered after a week, his mom says. It's unclear how he got the flu, but the family lives near a pig farm and the area is home to many migrant workers.

April 29, 2009|Eduardo Soto and Tracy Wilkinson

LA GLORIA, MEXICO, AND MEXICO CITY — The boy at the center of efforts to trace this new, deadly flu strain could barely keep still. A parade of visitors, many of them journalists, on Tuesday stopped by the small concrete home where Edgar Hernandez lives with his mother and 3-year-old brother.

Edgar, who is 5, (not 4 as government officials previously reported) is the earliest known victim of the disease in Mexico. How he contracted it could be a key clue in figuring out the virus' path.

Maria del Carmen Hernandez, Edgar's mother, said her son began sniffling and feeling feverish in late March. She gave him flu medicine from the pharmacy, but the fever persisted. She put wet cloths on his forehead. She considered putting him in a tub of water.

Finally, after a week, the fever broke, and Edgar seemed fine, she said.

"We didn't isolate him," Hernandez said. "We all slept in the same bed, he'd greet his little brother with a kiss. We all lived together and no one else got sick."

Mexican authorities say Edgar was among several hundred people who came down with the flu in the remote La Gloria farming area, in Veracruz state, in March and early April. All of the sickness was at the time attributed to an especially nasty seasonal flu.

Later, when the strain of swine flu was identified elsewhere in Mexico and the United States, several samples from La Gloria were retested. All came back as regular flu, except Edgar's.

He had been infected by the swine flu strain, said Dr. Miguel Angel Lezana, head of the national Epidemiological Vigilance and Disease Control Center. How is not yet known.

"We have more questions than answers," Lezana said in a briefing for a small group of reporters in Mexico City.

Investigators are working on two hypotheses, Lezana said. La Gloria is near a huge pig farm, and residents have complained that the agribusiness is contaminating their soil, water and air. However, Lezana said that state inspectors have tested pigs throughout Veracruz and found no sick animals.

La Gloria and surrounding parts of Veracruz are also home to many migrant workers who travel between Mexico and the United States. Officials there have said one outbreak of flu started when a migrant returned from the U.S. and infected his wife, who in turn infected several women in the town.

Hernandez said she was surprised that her son was afflicted with such a potentially serious illness, something she caught wind of from neighbors who had seen it on the news. She has heard the rumors about the pig farm, but she doesn't know how her son got sick.

Edgar seemed oblivious to the attention Tuesday. He ran around the house, playing with his brother, appearing to be the picture of health.

--

wilkinson@latimes.com

Soto is a special correspondent.

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