Fear of Avian Influenza Driving Economic Reactions Ahead of the Disease

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BIO-ERA Teleconference to Explore Impacts For Two Scenarios: (1) A Spreading Disease of Birds; (2) An Emerging Human Pandemic.

We’re convening the call to present and talk about these two possibilities with some noteworthy economic experts, and to discuss the early and potentially highly damaging wave of fear driven decision-making that seems destined to precede the impacts of the disease itself.

The avian influenza crisis has touched down in Europe, having landed on the wings of waterfowl in Romania. But the virus is also pushing a wave of media-driven fear ahead of it, creating panic buying of countermeasures, and foreshadowing more serious impacts for economies and public health efforts in the weeks and months ahead. In response, Bio Economic Research Associates (bio-eraTM) invites registration to a special one-hour web teleconference, “Thinking Ahead: Anticipating the Future Economic Impacts of H5N1 Avian Influenza” to be held Tuesday, November 1st, 2005 at 11:00 am edst.

The teleconference will feature a presentation by bio-era Managing Director for Research, James Newcomb, followed by invited comments and moderated discussion with noted guest experts, Dr. Robert Shapiro, former Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs in the Clinton administration, Dr. Sherry Cooper, Global Investment Strategist for the Bank of Montreal, Dr. Stephen Martin, Global Influenza Program, WHO, and Dr. Robert Cook, VP, Veterinary Services, Wildlife Conservation Society. Recent economic developments of note around H5N1 avian influenza include:

  • Concerns and fears about a possible influenza pandemic are already driving Westerners toward stockpiling the available countermeasures: from the antiviral drugs TamifluTM and RelenzaTM, to experimental vaccines, to sanitary masks and wipes. Governments, large private corporations, and individuals mostly in Western countries have made commitments or purchases totaling at least $ 2.3 billion to stockpile oseltamivir (Tamiflu)—an antiviral drug produced by pharmaceutical giant Roche – which is of uncertain effectiveness against an as-yet-to-emerge pandemic virus.
  • Meanwhile, months after they made their first appeal, the Food and Agriculture (FAO), World Health (WHO) and Animal Health (OIE) Organizations of the UN have only been able to raise 30% of the $100 Million US that is desperately needed in SE Asian countries like Vietnam (annual per capita healthcare spending equals about $21.00 US per year) to strengthen H5N1 regional surveillance and response.
  • Significant commitments have also been made to manufacturers of flu vaccines to create vaccines effective against H5N1 variants, but it is not known whether the vaccines being developed now would be effective against the influenza strains that might emerge.
  • New “DNA vaccines” offer an alternative to conventional production technologies, and could speed the vaccine industry’s ability to respond, but these technologies are not yet approved by FDA.

H5N1 avian influenza causes severely virulent disease primarily in poultry and wild birds. As a disease of poultry, it has already caused tens of billions of dollars in damage to affected countries in Asia. More than 150 million chickens and ducks have been destroyed by the disease to date, and affected countries have been saddled with the additional burdens imposed by poultry trade embargoes, and the public health costs of responding to the disease, which can be contracted by humans who come in contact with infected birds or their by-products. So far, the virus has infected at least 123 people, killing about half of them. There is also a real, but at this point only theoretical, possibility that H5N1 could evolve the ability to transmit easily from person to person. No one knows for certain if, or when, this might happen.

If a highly virulent human influenza pandemic does emerge, it is virtually certain to be the most devastating social and economic event of our lifetimes.

First, and in many ways foremost among the consequences, will be a wave of fear driven decision-making that will spread around the world much faster than the disease itself, and will have huge but very poorly understood or anticipated consequences.

Even if the disease never evolves to become a human pandemic, it is certain to create fear driven economic reactions and trade disruptions, as it spreads globally in birds, sparking local poultry epidemics, and sporadic human infections and death. This bio-era teleconference will present the firms latest analysis of the economic impacts of Avian influenza (H5N1), including the economic burdens that could be imposed by the animal disease, and some of the potential impacts to consider should the current outbreak develop into a global influenza pandemic.

“We’ve been looking at how things might unfold under two different but highly plausible scenarios for the evolution of the outbreak,” said Stephen Aldrich, President of bio-era. “One in which things keep going pretty much as they have been—a drawn out spread of the virus globally, with occasional outbreaks in poultry and wildlife, and a slow but steady increase in the number of human infections and deaths.” “And another scenario, in which you get the outbreak of efficiently transmitting human-to-human disease in rural Indonesia, spreading into Jakarta, and from there around the world—all within about six months.”

“We’re convening the call to present and talk about these two possibilities with some noteworthy economic experts, and to discuss the early and potentially highly damaging wave of fear driven decision-making that seems destined to precede the impacts of the disease itself.”

The teleconference is a part of bio-era’s recently launched service “Thinking Ahead: Anticipating Early Impacts of an Avian Influenza Pandemic”, designed to support business and investment planning efforts in advance of a possible influenza pandemic. To register for the web teleconference, please visit http://www.bio-era.net/events/event_form.html. or to enroll in the bio-era service, please visit http://www.bio-era.net or contact Steve Aldrich at 617 876-2400.

Bio Economic Research Associates (bio-era™) is a leading provider of independent research and advisory services on the emerging bio economy. Bio - era’s mission is to help decision-makers understand and respond to the risks and opportunities arising from the economic and societal impacts of human-induced changes to biological systems. The firm’s practice areas include biosecurity, bioenergy, and biotechnology.

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