Swine Flu, Earthquake, and Drug Wars Rock Mexico

Officials urge Americans against "nonessential" travel to Mexico.

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"I'm supposed to go to cancun Friday," reads a skittish post on Tripadvisor's Cancun forum. "I'm cancelling. Of course the people at hotels are going to tell you everything is ok. not worth dying to me. i'll go back when this fiasco is long gone. Russian roulette."

It's definitely a gamble traveling to Mexico, especially with the spate of grim news concerning a deadly influenza outbreak, escalating drug wars, and today's 5.6-magnitude earthquake. Officials today urged Americans against "nonessential" travel to Mexico.

The swine flu has plagued Mexico, where more than 1,600 cases have been reported since April 13. The suspected death toll has increased to 149. Health Minister José Angel Córdova reportedly said that 1,995 people nationwide had entered hospitals with "serious cases of pneumonia," and that 1,070 of those people have been released. Córdova also noted that 20 of the deaths so far have been confirmed as swine flu and only two laboratories in the country—one in Mexico City and one in the state of Veracruz—are able to confirm this new strain. Health authorities cancelled all schools across Mexico until May 6.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn't issued a travel advisory, several airlines have enacted their own. U.S. Airways, for example, has implemented a travel advisory for flights to Mexico City, waiving fees and easing on ticketing rules, allowing anyone traveling between now and May 8 to change their trip dates without penalty.

As for the earthquake, tremors caused office buildings to sway; workers tumbled into the streets seeking safety. There were no immediate reports of injuries. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake was centered 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Mexico City in Guerrero, a popular tourist region that includes the cities of Acapulco, Taxco, and Chilpancingo.

And those drug wars? A staggering 10,100 people, including almost 1,000 soldiers and police officers, have been killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderón deployed the army to fight the drug cartels in December 2006.

I spoke with the Mexican Tourism Board, who unsurprisingly said "there is no alert in regards to tourism," and suggest that travelers take everyday basic precautions imparted by the CDC:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
      • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

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        natural disasters
        • Kimberly Castro

          Kimberly Castro is the managing editor of Money and Health at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn, circle her on Google+, or email her at kcastro@usnews.com.