Over the last 48 hours there has been a significant increase in reported cases of the swine flu condition in Mexico and other parts of South America. Today has seen reports of cases in Israel, New Zealand and Scotland with the United States declaring an emergency after investigations showed the virus could not be contained in the short term. As the worldwide recession was looking to come to an end there are concerns that a protracted situation such as the spread of swine flu could have a significant impact around the globe.
What is swine flu?
As the name suggests, swine flu has been an everyday element of the pig industry for well over 100 years. The condition produces symptoms which are similar to human influenza resulting in fever, disorientation, stiffness of the joints, vomiting and in the worst cases loss of consciousness and possible death. While swine flu has just hit the press over the last few days there have over the years been significant outbreaks around the world which have in many cases resulted in death.
The new outbreak of swine flu
The current outbreak first materialised in March 2009 although over the last few days figures have been released showing at least 1,000 people have been contaminated in Mexico. A substantial 80 deaths have been connected to the condition in Mexico and there are substantial concerns we could be on the verge of a swine flu pandemic.
Since the Mexican government came forward with detailed figures, outbreaks are being reported in a number of countries around the world where checks are being carried out. At first glance it can be difficult to differentiate swine flu from human flu which could cause a significant delay in confirming the number of potential new cases – losing valuable time in the fight to contain the spread.
The constant threat of a flu pandemic
This particular strain of influenza is apparently made up of four different flu viruses which include North American swine influenza, North American avian influenza, human influenza A and the swine influenza which is typically found in Asia and Europe. As a consequence, there is no one flu treatment available at this moment in time which can wipe out the condition and flush the body of the virus.
While the transfer from pigs to humans is not uncommon in this particular type of virus, it is the ability of this latest strain to “jump” from human to human. The press today is littered with pictures of Mexican commuters wearing surgical masks around their mouths to reduce the chances of infection. The virus itself is spread in the same way as traditional human influenza with inhalation of airborne particles and contact with contaminated surfaces of significant concern.
The threat to the worldwide economy
Over the last few years we have seen a number of significant virus outbreaks around the world including avian flu which continues to come and go in the Far East and other parts of the globe. At the height of the avian flu outbreak we saw borders closed, planes grounded and significant restrictions imposed upon travellers within the affected countries and to other parts of the world.
Very quickly a small localised problem, such as avian flu, became a worldwide potential pandemic although thankfully due to expert surveillance the immediate threat from avian flu was negated. However, large parts of the Far East still carry the stigma of the virus and there has been a substantial impact on many local economies. The speed at which the swine flu has crossed oceans and infected people from around the globe is a serious concern to the authorities in many countries.
The threat to the property market
As with any property market, a buoyant local economy is required to increase demand and increase prices on an ongoing basis. Even if the authorities are able to crush the ongoing swine flu outbreak at an early stage there will be large parts of South America and other areas of the world which could be in isolation for some time to come. Many investors will also look toward such areas with great concern and we could see both a reduction in short to medium-term investment and many property developers pulling out of such regions.
This comes at a time when the worldwide recession and the collapse in the worldwide property market had apparently been coming to an end, if you believe some observers. The outbreak of swine flu could work in two ways, it could bring together the worldwide population and worldwide authorities to fight the outbreak, stabilising the worldwide economy as and when the situation is under control. Alternatively we could see more and more countries around the world cast into isolation until localised outbreaks can be controlled, with international and local travel severely restricted.
Is international travel to blame?
Many people will not be aware but we have seen significant outbreaks of swine flu before, in America in 1976, the Philippines in 2007 as well as a significant outbreak in the US in 1918 which saw moves afoot to vaccinate the whole US population. As it happened, the 1918 vaccination of US citizens was cancelled after 24% of the country had been treated.
The problem we have today is that while international travel is required to build and sustain economies around the world, it does offer a very easy route for many unwanted extras. However, there is no way that the worldwide economy can survive unless there is interaction and frequent international travel but we may have to invest significant sums of money in more complex border controls.
For many years scientists have been predicting a flu pandemic which could literally have an impact in every area of the world. Avian flu was for many years seen as the “favourite” to cause a worldwide concern but the speed at which swine flu has spread from Mexico across the world is of great concern. There is no doubt that local issues do and will continue to impact upon overseas and local investment with the property market one of the first to feel the force.
Even if the US authorities and other governments around the world are able to control and reduce the impact in the short to medium term we could see significant areas of South America turn into effective “no go regions” for international investors. The impact on local economies could be significant and the longer this particular outbreak lasts the more chance of a delay in the recovery of the worldwide economy as a whole.