Flu Pandemic Could Cost the World $2 Trillion


PARIS — A worldwide influenza pandemic resulting from a mutation of the H5N1 avian influenza virus could restrain global economic growth by as much as $2 trillion, or more than 3%, as a result of voluntary or mandatory restrictions on travel, trade, and public interaction, a World Bank economist said at an international conference on avian influenza in humans.

Other effects that could restrict world economic growth are reductions in labor productivity because of absenteeism and increased costs related to hospitalization and health care, Milan Brahmbhatt, the World Bank's lead economist for East Asia and the Pacific, told the gathering of international public health officials.

In addition to the loss of lives, the threat to economic productivity demonstrates the value of preventing the avian flu virus from mutating to a form that can be passed easily from human to human.

“The general problem of global infectious diseases is going to be with us for a long time and may get worse,” Mr. Brahmbhatt said. “Thus it makes sense to also undertake broader long-term measures to strengthen the early detection, surveillance, institutional, regulatory, and technical capacity of the animal health, human health, and other relevant sectors. These will be valuable investments both in the short and long run.”

World Bank modeling and previous research suggests that, in the event of a severe pandemic on the scale of the 1918–1919 outbreak, 70 million people could die, which would reduce economic output by 0.4%. The short-run costs of illness, such as absenteeism and health care costs, would cut global economic output by another 0.9%.

In the event of a mild outbreak, such as the 1968 flu pandemic, analyses indicate that the United States could experience 100,000–200,000 deaths, 700,000 additional hospitalizations, and 40 million more outpatient visits, Mr. Brahmbhatt said.

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