There is growing concern of the bird flu turning into a pandemic and some experts argue that the world is unprepared. A flu pandemic is an outbreak of flu that would cover a wide area and infect and cause the death of a significant portion of the world population. The last major pandemic that caused widespread disease was “the Spanish Flu” of 1918 which left tens of millions dead. Experts predict that the timing is right; the world is due for another pandemic. They also predict that the next bird flu pandemic could possibly infect 20% of the world population with a staggering death toll. Third World countries without the resources and technology that the developed nations have will be hit the hardest.
The Human Toll
As of the first week of January 2005 there have 146 confirmed cases of H5N1 strain of the bird flu in six countries. The total number of fatalities linked to this strain is up to 76. It is predicted that the avian flu could become a pandemic as soon as the virus gains the ability to transmit itself from human to human. It is predicted that once this takes place there would be 50 million deaths globally. If 20% of the global population is out of commission due to illness and also fear of being infected, this will affect all quarters of the workforce. In the worst case scenario, there may food and energy shortages associated with the diminished work force and import/export restrictions.
The Economic Impact
The affect of the pandemic is already being felt in some countries. The economic growth of East Asian countries is already showing trends of slowing down. It is predicted that this would be slow year for economic growth. This reflected in the poultry industry and tourism industry. Since the first outbreak of the bird flu, tens of billion birds have been culled to limited or stop the spread of the disease. There are reports that this culling on such a massive scale can cost the economy over 10 billion dollars in income. In the majority of the countries affected by the bird flu, the farming is not on a large scale. Poultry farming is mostly done on small scale by backyard low income farmers. With their flocks being culled, these farmers loose their income resulting in devastating socioeconomic effects. Tourism will also be affected. There would be a ban or restrictions of travel to areas where bird flu has been reported. Some countries like Turkey have already reported already seeing a drop in their tourism industry with tourists canceling trips and hotel reservations
The Impact on the Healthcare System
Health care system will be overloaded with caring for the sick population. Hospitals will not be able to cope with large number of sick people. Besides the shortage of medical care facilities and staff, there probably will be a shortage of medical supplies. Health care workers may fall ill exuberating the situation further.