Could Bird Flu Wreck the Economy? Some Say Yes.

Most of the time when you think about a possible bird flu pandemic, it's usually the health-related issues taht come to mind first. But according to the Centers for Disease Control, businesses and commerce might be affected most, possibly crippling the local economy and costing cities like Houston hundreds of millions of dollars. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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When SARS broke-out in Toronto in 2003, the ensuing panic cost the city more than $1 billion in lost business and it took the local enconomy two years to recover. Health experts say the bird flu could cause similar problems here if the virus mutated and spread from human to human. Business leaders like Greater Houston Partnership President and CEO Jeff Moseley say judging from what happened in Toronto, local businesses should have plans in place to deal with a possible pandemic.

"We know from that small model that we should sit-up and start talking to each other and listening about what challenges there might be to a region of 5.2 million and how would the businesses and how would the economy be impacted by this kind of a strong rippling through our health infrastructure."

Most businesses don't have plans that specifically address pandemics, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 90-percent would be affected. Jason Love is the vice president for product development for Always On Wireless, a local company that does have a plan in place.

"It's working from home. It's making sure that you've set-up your people so that they can work from home for a long amount of time and then it's making sure that that small amount of people who have to come into the office aren't going to be overly affected by the pandemic flu."

During the Toronto SARS outbreak, only 225 residents were actually diagnosed with the disease, a tiny number compared to the economic damage it caused. Dr. David Persse is Houston's Public Health Authority and says preparation could lessen the negative effects on the city's economy.

"There are ways for us to continue to do business, but to do it in a modified manner so that we minimize risk and thereby employees will feel more comfortable coming to work, they're going to feel more safe coming to work and not only that, but then we'll hopefully have less transmission of illness while people are at work and thereby there will be less people sick within the community."

Local business and health officials at the first Texas Bird Flu Forum here in Houston are learning ways to prepare for the possibility of Avian Flu. Again, Jeff Moseley.

"We hope and pray that it never hits us but this is a great beginning dialogue for us and it will serve us on different levels. We may never have a pandemic, but the readiness componant and a lot of the basic concepts that are described here can help us with other challenges to the well-being of our region."

You can find out more about bird flu and how businesses can be ready for a pandemic on our website, KUHF.org.

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