Sidenote: Hope you're finding this useful? I have always been curious about this matter. And when I found very little quality information about it, I decided to share a part of what I've learned about it - which is why this article came to be written. Read on.
H5N1 bird flu struck another country today as Hungary became the latest European nation to discover the deadly disease in migrating swans. Over the past seven days, H5N1 has been in seven new countries; five of them being in Europe. The results of this rapid spread are causing European nations to take a variety of actions to protect both their poultry industry and their citizens.
Yesterday, Albania banned the importation of poultry products from any country that is known to have had occurrences of H5N1. At the same time, Germany has ordered that domestic poultry be confined to indoor pens as of February 17. Today, France also ordered that all domestic poultry be kept in indoor pens, where it can not be exposed to migratory wild birds.
As of last week, Bulgaria banned the hunting of wild birds by sportsmen. Bulgaria discovered H5N1 is several dead swans found in the wetlands of the Danube River.
The spread of H5N1 is having immediate economic consequences. In Italy, where the disease was discovered over the weekend, sales of chicken dropped by 50% in the three days following the government announcement that the disease was present in the country. Layoffs have already started to occur.
On the other hand, Ireland is reporting that due to H5N1 in other areas of Europe, high demand for Irish beef and lamb is actually forcing prices higher.
The economic impacts of a full scale bird flu pandemic should not be underestimated. The Australian government is releasing a study today which estimates the cost to global economy from a pandemic could be as high as $4.4 Trillion dollars. This is significantly higher than previous estimates by the World Bank, but even the Australian numbers may be conservative.
The study estimated that in a worst case scenario, there would be 142 million deaths worldwide. Some scientists believe that the actual death count could be significantly higher; with up to 1 Billion people dying. Undeveloped third world nations would be significantly harder hit than other areas of the world.
The Australian estimates were put together by Professor Warwick McKibbin, one of the world's leading economic modelers and a member of the Australian Reserve Bank board, and Dr Alexandra Sidorenko, a health expert at the Australian National University. According to their study, the overall world economy could shrink by as much as 12.6% and would lead to a global depression.
The study, in combination with the rapid spread of the disease, is disturbing. It has been 38 years since the last pandemic flu outbreak. Since the 19th century, pandemics have occurred at maximum intervals of 40 years. This means that we are due. All of the flu pandemics that have occurred in that time frame have originated from China and Southeast Asia. This is exactly the point of origination for H5N1. And while a number of pharmaceutical companies are working on, and testing bird flu vaccines, there is a growing body of evidence that these may be ineffectual.
The bottom line is that there may not be enough time left to head off a bird flu pandemic. This means that individuals and companies need to start making their own preparations to deal with the bird flu. Yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary, Mike Leavitt told reporters that he has been hammering home a message to the states that they can expect little or no assistance from the federal government in the event of a pandemic. This means that we are probably all on our own.
Jim Malmberg founded and writes for fluFactor. fluFactor is an online blog (http://flufactor.blogspot.com) that delivers news and information on the spread of the bird flu. The blog has a user forum section, and users can also subscribe to receive daily updates by e-mail. the site pays special attention to the economic consequences to bird flu outbreaks.