Having spent a chunk of December and a good part of January recovering from the flu and its lingering symptoms, this just seemed a relevant topic on which to return to my blog posts.

Flu epidemics can reach global proportions and have a negative effect on trade.

This possibility is most obvious when we have an epidemic like the 2009 swine flu that affected the pork industry. Almost 20 nations, including China and Russia, imposed bans on the importation of pigs and pork products from Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Nor are visitors eager to visit a country in which any type of epidemic, whether or not it directly affects humans, is in full-swing. We only have to think back to the avian flu epidemic of 2004 when a strain of the influenza virus (H5N1) that for centuries had been found only in birds began causing deaths among humans in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Authorities did note that all such cases had been caused by contact with infected birds and there was no known case of human-to-human transmission of the virus. Nevertheless, countries like Canada and the United States prepared for the possibility of a pandemic – a global epidemic — and disruptions to trade flows caused by import bans on products from affected countries.

Thankfully, this flu season has not been anything as dramatic. However, affected by tourism and holiday travel high levels of influenza infections have been reported in North America, Europe, and Asia. This has in turn caused shortages of the various drugs that we take to help us get over our symptoms faster.

In short, each year’s flu season is a reminder of our globalized economy, in which we “trade” not just goods and services, but at times viruses that can negatively affect our physical as well as our economic health.


CDC Flu Maps compare prevalence of previous flu season in the US (winter, 2011, left) with this year’s (winter 2012, right)