New avian flu warning targets economic health

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WASHINGTON (AP) – A severe flu pandemic would probably throw the U.S. economy into recession since people who are ill – as well as those who are not infected and want to avoid the flu – would stay home from work, school and public places such as restaurants, a congressional study says. The nation’s gross domestic product would drop an estimated 5 percent during the year of an outbreak, with transportation, retailing, tourism and entertainment taking the hardest hits, the Congressional Budget Office said. Thursday’s report suggests that is a worst-case scenario, if a pandemic similar to the 1918-1919 Spanish flu took hold around the world. It estimates the chances of such a severe flu are less than one-third of 1 percent annually, though public health officials are increasingly concerned that the bird flu virus could mutate and jump from person to person, something that has not yet occurred. “A $675 billion hit to the economy is without question a grim prognosis,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who requested the study. “The good news is that our hands are not tied.” The CBO defined a severe pandemic scenario as one in which 90 million Americans are infected and 2 million die. About 30 percent of workers in urban areas would become sick, and 2.5 percent of those would die. Frist, a doctor, used the CBO study to tout six proposals that he said would reduce the economic impact of a pandemic. The recommendations mirror many of those made by the Bush administration, which has called for $7.1 billion in emergency funding for pandemic preparation. Frist called for formation of a communications structure that would let the public get updated every 6-8 hours about symptoms, cases, deaths and outbreak locations. “To allay irrational fear, communication must be the bedrock of every public policy response,” Frist said. He said his proposed spending represents only about 1 percent of the potential economic hit if a pandemic were to occur. He said he would push for Congress to approve the funding in coming weeks. House lawmakers have demanded offsets, or cuts in other programs, to pay the $7.1 billion sought by the administration. Frist said he would support offsets, but he wouldn’t delay spending if they could not be found. “I think this is emergency funding,” he said. To avoid the flu, most people would simply stay home. They would stop traveling, going to restaurants and retail outlets, entertainment venues like stadiums and theaters. A significant portion of the work force would miss an average of three weeks of work, either to the illness or caring for others who are sick. “Business confidence would be dented, the supply of labor would be restricted (owing to illness, mortality, and absenteeism spurred by fear of contracting the disease), supply chains would be strained as transportation systems were disrupted, and arrears and default rates on consumer and business debt would probably rise somewhat,” the report says. “Economic activity would slow, but it would not halt completely.” The CBO predicted the stock market would fall, then rebound, as happened in Hong Kong following the SARS outbreak. Long-term economic effects depend on who is hit hardest. If it hits people of working age, the work force could drop by about three-quarters of 1 percent. The report cites as sources studies of the Spanish flu, the Black Plague in Europe and the more recent, less severe outbreaks in the late 1950s and late 1960s. It is the latest in a series of government efforts to get a handle on the impact of a flu pandemic. Health officials are concerned about the bird flu virus because humans have no immunity to the strain spreading across Asia and into Europe. Some critics suggest the flu threat has been overstated, while Frist said he was concerned that the public might lose concern about a superflu threat. Among Frist’s other recommendations: -Invest $1 billion on surveillance systems to improve detection around the world. -Stockpile enough Tamiflu to treat 25 percent of the U.S. population, $1.35 billion. -Take steps to boost the vaccine manufacturing base by increasing demand for regular flu vaccines, passing tax credits and offering more liability protection from civil lawsuits. -Invest more in new technology to speed vaccine production. -Improve response by training first responders, ensuring a civilian volunteer corps, and putting in place plans to deliver medicine effectively in large quantities around the country. Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.last_img

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