MEXICO CITY — It seemed an odd precaution, given his risky way of life: A man targeted by drug traffickers was wearing a germ-blocking surgical mask when his bullet-riddled body was found.
Even people caught in Mexico's murderous drug war are heeding advice to use face masks as protection against swine flu.
Soldiers and police battling the cartels are donning masks too — and putting them on those they arrest: Gregorio Sauceda Gamboa, the alleged leader of the fearsome Zeta gang of cartel hit men, had a blue mask dangling around his neck when federal police — also wearing surgical masks — hauled him before photographers.
The battle against the virus has strangled normal life in Mexico, closing most businesses, government offices and public events.
Drug traffickers are evidently not joining the shutdown.
Assassinations go on
In the past week, more than 28 people have been killed in Mexico's deadliest city, Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas. Seven police officers were gunned down in Tijuana after weeks of relative calm in that city, next to San Diego.
The police chief of Piedras Negras, across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas, was assassinated last weekend as news of the swine flu began to instill a new fear among Mexicans.
One of two men shot to death in the town of Zinacantepec near Mexico City had a surgical mask on his face and a drug gang's warning message left next to his bullet-riddled body.
Drug violence has killed more than 10,700 people across Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched his government's offensive against the cartels after taking office in 2006.
The outbreak doesn't seem to have stifled the government's fight, either: Soldiers and federal police are still patrolling drug hotspots, and on Thursday, they announced the detention of 12 federal police investigators. They were accused of leaking information to hit men who ambushed and killed eight officers in a failed attempt to free a high-level cartel member.
Cover your face with impunity
The epidemic may be helping traffickers in at least one way: "You can cover your face and that doesn't draw particular attention to you," said George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. "And with people staying home, and kind of minding their own business more, it frees up the drug thoroughfares for moving your product."
Some even suggest the drug war caused the Mexican government to miss early signs of an outbreak.
"It's probably fair to say that Mexican authorities have been diverted by the drug war and other goings on," said Art Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
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