A Chinese Export No One Wants

Every year in December, Agora Financial gathers all of its newsletter editors to make a big prediction about the next year.

I’m not a big believer in making those kinds of predictions, but I was captivated at the time by the emergence of a new variant of bird flu in China that was nearly 50% fatal.

My prediction was that there will be an outbreak of a new flu called H7N9. That’s an Asian bird flu. It might become transmissible between humans, which might allow it to spread around the world in as little as three weeks.

It’s a little depressing, but this flu was detected in March of last year for the first time, and within about 60 days, more than 130 people were in­fected, all of them in China — and 44 of them died rather quickly.

It’s a respiratory flu, and it’s incredibly deadly if you get it.

Now the good news is that people don’t normally get this flu unless they handle a lot of poultry and livestock. It’s also good news that it’s been confined to China so far.

The Chinese government has killed millions and millions and millions of chickens in China that are infected with this flu.

…if you can imagine a flu where 300 million people die, you’re looking at at least that type of scenario.

There’s a difference between the kind of flu you get every year — or that circulates among us every year — and this kind of flu. Basically when you get a flu shot every year, you’re getting a flu shot for the previous year’s flu.

And it’s similar enough to the morphing that’s gone on in the current flu that it’s pretty protective. Not always, but in about 80% of the cases it should protect you pretty well.

This is entirely different. This is a very unusual strain of flu.

Again, it’s a bird flu, and what has kept everyone from getting it so far and from our lives turning into a copy of the movie Contagion is that it does not transmit from human to human yet. But the more humans that are exposed to this virus, the more likely it is that the virus will learn how to transmit itself from person to person instead of from bird to person.

Now, in the poultry world where this flu exists right now, the only way you can get it is to basically get blood from a chicken or poultry livestock that has this infection on your hands and touch your eye or touch your nose or touch your mouth.

The average person in the United States touches their face 2,000 times a day. So keep that in mind. So if you touch an infected bird and you get some kind of vital fluid that’s in that bird on your hands and then it gets to a mucous membrane, you’ll very likely get this influenza.

Again, what we’re worried about is this influenza developing the ability, which viruses do very well, of being able to be transmissible from human to human.

Should that happen, we are likely to see something that has the potential of being worse than the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed 50 million people in a world that had about one-sixth of the population that the world has now.

Some of the first recorded cases of what became known as the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 popped up at Camp Funston in Kansas. During World War I, as many as 50,000 soldiers were trained at the camp.

So if you can imagine a flu where 300 million people die, you’re looking at at least that type of scenario.

It’s not a scenario I want to see come true, but I can tell you that people at the Centers for Disease Control are very worried about this, as are the Chinese.

The Chinese claim to have invented a vaccine — or developed — a vaccine that will work against this flu, but if they have, I’m sure they’re not producing it in any kind of mass quantities.

The problem is that once this flu does become transmissible from person to person, it will move around the world within about three weeks.

So the best defense for a flu outbreak like this — we cannot really control very well whether this influenza develops the ability to move from person to person.

What we can control is vaccines.

But nobody is going to make millions if not billions of doses of vaccine on speculation.

So we really have to kind of wait for the outbreak of this and for this to actually happen before somebody tries to start producing vaccines.

Keep an eye on this space!

Best Regards,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

Ed. Note: As a frequent contributor to the tech-based Tomorrow in Review newsletter, Stephen keeps a watchful eye on the technology space, specifically the biotech sector. And as readers of Tomorrow in Review know well, some of the most amazing and investable ideas are being developed right now. So if you want to get the chance to make huge gains in the tech sector, one of your best options is to sign up for the FREE Tomorrow in Review email edition, right  here.