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Fluconomics: Preserving Our Hospital Infrastructure During and After a Pandemic


Would an infectious disease pandemic overtax our hospitals to the extent that conditions for treating infectious disease would revert back to those prevalent in the nineteenth century? The United States is not immune to naturally occurring outbreaks of deadly diseases. The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are currently monitoring a strain of avian influenza, or "bird flu," that has infected 236 people in Asia, Turkey, and Iraq, and has a mortality rate of fifty-eight percent. If this virus mutates to become easily transmissible from person to person, it could become a pandemic even more deadly than the legendary Spanish flu that swept through the United States and the world in 1918.

The Spanish flu infected more than twenty-five percent of the United States population, and killed 500,000 in the United States alone. It lowered the average life span of an adult in the United States by twelve years. Estimates of the total number of deaths from the Spanish flu worldwide range from 20 million to more than 100 million, with most occurring within the span of twenty-four weeks. If a similar pandemic occurred today, with a similar mortality rate, 1.5 million Americans would die. Virtually all experts agree that it is not a question of if but when another influenza pandemic as deadly as the Spanish flu will occur. The United States and the world are engaging in new pandemic preparedness efforts because of the recent emergence of the H5N1 avian flu as a human infection.

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