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Worst case scenario underlies US pandemic plan

April 27, 2009
by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and EILEEN SULLIVAN
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two million dead. Hospitals overwhelmed. Schools closed. Swaths of empty seats at baseball stadiums and houses of worship. An economic recovery snuffed out. We're nowhere close to what government planners say would be a worst-case scenario: a global flu pandemic. But government leaders at all levels, and major employers, have spent nearly four years planning for one in series of exercises.

Their reports, reviewed by The Associated Press, and interviews with participants paint a grim picture of what could happen if the swine flu gets severely out of control.

A full-scale pandemic - if it ever comes - could be expected to claim the lives of about 2 percent of those infected, about 2 million Americans.

The government estimates that a pandemic like the 1918 Spanish flu would sicken 90 million Americans, or about 30 percent of the population. Of those, nearly 10 million would have to be admitted to a hospital, and nearly 1.5 million would need intensive care. About 750,000 would need the help of mechanical ventilators to keep breathing.

No one would be immune from the consequences, even those who don't get sick, according to worst-case exercises run by local and national agencies.

The Trust for America's Health, an independent public health group, estimated in 2007 that a severe pandemic would shrink U.S. output by about 5.5 percent.

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