Did the swine flu save lives? Evidence from Mexico

Available from: 
October 2013
Paper author(s): 
Jorge Aguero (University of Connecticut)
Trinidad Beleche (Food and Drug Administration)
Education - Health

Diarrheal diseases are among the top causes of child deaths in developing countries. These diseases can be prevented by the simple act of handwashing. However, the current literature shows that only programs with high monitoring are effective in changing behavior and improving health outcomes. In this paper we exploit the spatial variation in the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak and show that areas with higher incidence of the swine flu observed substantial reductions in the number of diarrheal cases using hospital discharge data from Mexico. In particular, we find that for every 1,000 swine flu cases, there was a decrease of 19 percent in the number of hospital discharges and that most of the effects are found on children under six years of age. We validate the robustness of these estimates using cause-specific discharges as well as placebo tests before 2009. We present evidence suggesting that handwashing practices are behind these large effects. Overall, these findings are consistent with the literature of behavioral economics about the role of shocks on changing people risk perceptions.


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Research section: 
Lacea 2013 annual meeting
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