Swine flu may slow growth in key U.S. industries, warns expert

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Washington, September 24 (ANI): Swine flu may slow growth in key industries in America, says a health economist.

Dr. Bryce Sutton, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Business, reckons that H1N1 influenza may stall already-weak GDP growth in the third and fourth quarters of 2009.

"Tourism and travel are vitally important sectors in the economy of many U.S. cities and communities. Depending upon the severity of the spread of the virus, consumers and businesses may respond by restricting travel and vacation plans, which would dampen an already weak recovery in these areas," says Sutton.

He says that airlines, hotels and other service industries-which have already been negatively impacted by recent trends of tightened consumer spending-may face double jeopardy in case H1N1 infections or their fears keep would-be travellers at home.

His statement attains significance because as many as 60 million Americans annually travel 50 miles or more from home during the country's peak travel periods, which fall on the days that surround the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Sutton says that other business sectors may also suffer if sick workers and absences cut deeply into productivity and revenues.

"Although business managers have had time to prepare contingency plans, those that already have cut the numbers of employees in an effort to reduce costs during the downturn may be hardest hit. In many cases, companies that already are working with the bare minimum staffs face further productivity challenges should large numbers of the remaining employees contract H1N1," he says.

He stresses the need for more research to measure the more precise impact of the H1N1 virus once the traditional U.S. flu season has passed.

Until then, statements on the economic influence of the virus will reflect educated predictions based on the history of previous pandemics, and their reported economic effects.

"The most recent case we have to study is the Asian SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, which negatively impacted a range of industries in Asia. The effects led to a regional loss of between 0.5 and 2 percent of GDP. H1N1 impact predictions are based on examples like this one in which virus fears traditionally have had a negative influence on the economies of impacted regions," Sutton says.

"However, the H1N1 preparation has been much better when compared to the response of health agencies during the SARS outbreak and that could counter some potential negative impacts," he adds. (ANI)

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