Thursday, April 30, 2009

Did we dodge the bullet?

They are starting to talk about the dollar cost of a major Flu Pandemic. Actually they are recirculating the numbers the Congressial Budget Office (CBO) created in response to the Bird Flu scare a couple of years ago. In a severe outbreak with 75 million sickened and 2 million dead in the US they estimate the cost at about 700 billion of GDP. Worldwide the cost would be 4 trillion of GDP. The CBO estimated that would push us into a major recession. Unfortunately we are already experiencing this level of decline and this would not just be added on but tend to multiply the declining numbers.

The CBO is also using pretty low infection numbers. If this really is a 1918 event; the infection rate would be twice as high and the death rate could be much higher. Then there are other factors they did not address. The tendency of this kind of virus is to strike down people in their prime rather than the elderly and the very young who are passed over. It could create as many orphans as there are dead which would further strain resources. They did not factor in the permanent loss of productivity from the loss of this many workers in their prime.

The consequences of the breakdown of essential services during the pandemic are not included in the estimates. For example: firefighters, police and medical workers are in the likely affected group. People confined in institutions, prisons and nursing homes would be at risk of neglect or abandonment. A breakdown of society from widespread panic could far outstrip the direct costs and lead to other disease outbreaks and on and on. And let’s not even get into the potential effects on military.

There is corporate pressure being put on the media to stop calling it Swine Flu, it’s bad for business. The corporation responsible for this outbreak has nearly a million hogs confined in its operation in Mexico and would rather you didn’t associate all the deaths with them. The good news is that so far nobody infected outside of Mexico has died (the child in Texas came from Mexico). It is possible that the version of this strain of SWINE FLU that is spreading human to human is not as virulent as the hog to human version. We’ll know in a few days if we really dodged the bullet. If we dodged the bullet... this time.