Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu and the Economy

Having read article after article about swine flu in the Health section of the NY Times webite, I clicked on the Economics section, looking for a little relief. But just in case I had forgotten how interconnected our world is (thank you, Humbio!), I found headlines about swine flu dominating the Econ section as well. The first article (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/business/economy/29trade.html) had to do with the pork industry. Several countries have closed their barriers to Mexican and American pork, and others are likely to follow suit. In addition, analysts have predicted a decline in pork sales in grocery stores, and consumers in the US have confirmed that they are steering clear of pork. Understandably, the pork industry is frustrated, as there is currently no evidence that swine flu can be contracted by eating pork. Reading about the pork industry's losses reminded me of the Mad Cow epidemic, when the beef industry in the US and the UK suffered severe losses. However, in that case the disease could in fact be acquired from cows, who harbored the deadly prion, while in the case of swine flu the association between pork and swine flu is tenuous at best.

Nevertheless, this message has either not reached the American public or is currently being ignored amidst a growing climate of fear. The name "swine flu" may have something to do with the avoidance of pork; as another article (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/world/asia/29swine.html?ref=health) discusses, the name "swine flu" may not be entirely appropriate; in addition to genetic sequences from swine influenza, the virus also contains sequences from avian and human influenza. Others have suggested calling the virus by its scientific name, H1N1, or naming it "Mexican Influenza."

The BBC Business Section, too, ran a headline article today (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8021974.stm) about the economic impacts of swine flu, noting losses in the markets worldwide and a particular loss in shares for travel firms and airlines. The article also included an entertaining quote: analyst Tsuyoshi Segawa of Shinko Securities said, "We had finally begun to see a bottom for the global economy, and that has been ruined by pigs." Segawa's statement is not entirely correct, but she raises an interesting point: how will the swine flu affect global economic recovery plans in the coming months? What kinds of reverberations will the flu have beyond the pork, travel, and airline industries?

A final article reminded me of the huge economic costs associated with combatting an epidemic (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/health/29flu.html). Yesterday, Obama asked Congress for $1.5 billion in supplemental funding. The UK, too, is facing huge costs, as it stockpile face masks and plans an extensive information campaign that includes the delivery of an informational leaflet to every home in Britain (BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8023977.stm). Funding must also go toward vaccine research and potential production on a mass scale and public health and prevention efforts. Finally, the Mexican economy is at present the hardest hit; Mexico City currently resembles a ghost town, and the impending decision to shut down public transportation may freeze almost all economic activity in the capital city.

Perhaps the hype and concern over swine flu is overstated, but it seems important to me to recognize the reverberations that the virus is already having on economies worldwide.

-Cooper

2 comments:

  1. the economy just can't win these days...

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  2. Wow - "Mexican Influenza." I'd rather call it swine flu.

    Crystal

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