It has been nearly a century since a pandemic - the Spanish flu - killed tens of millions of people. Now, health experts warn that another influenza pandemic, this time involving the H5N1 variant of bird flu, is in the offing.
If the expected pandemic is as bad as the Spanish flu, more than 50 million deaths could be recorded worldwide, even if a successful vaccine is developed, experts warn.
An estimated 12,000 died from Spanish flu in Australia in 1919; a little more than half were from NSW. Wearing gauze masks was mandatory and gathering in crowds was banned. Shops were not allowed to hold sales and space regulations were imposed on restaurants and the like.
In any bird flu pandemic, the global economic dislocation could be severe since the healthiest people, aged between 20 and 40, could be most at risk of infection. And the world economy is much more integrated than it was in 1918 when Spanish flu struck, so the spread of the disease through travel and tourism would be much more immediate.
"The longer I think about this, the grimmer it appears," Sherry Cooper, an economist with Canadian financial conglomerate BMO Nesbitt Burns, wrote in a recent report on the likely effects of avian flu. "Certainly, there would be winners - such as funeral homes and other death-related businesses, some drug companies and private medical establishments - but they would be relatively few in number and relatively small in the economic scheme of things."
The BMO Nesbitt Burns report assessed the impact on financial markets from a bird flu pandemic, pointing to China as the likely origin. The economic dislocation would be so severe it would derail the commodities boom, resulting in plunging demand for metal and steel, slumping oil prices, chaotic financial markets and widespread corporate collapse.
The World Health Organisation predicts that financial markets would be forced to close, with significant economic dislocation.
I've read talk of if the blird flue and human flue were to mix, this could truly turn into a world wide plague killing millions.