Based on historical recurrence rates the next pandemic is overdue and its impact could be even worse than the 1918 Spanish flu

A pandemic is ‘inevitable’ and the impact could be even worse than the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ outbreak, warned emerging risk experts in a new report.

Based on historic recurrence rates of 30-50 years the next pandemic is due anytime now, claimed the experts.

The severity and impact of the next pandemic is very uncertain. But, according to the report by the Lloyd’s emerging risks team, a repeat of the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, which cost the lives of an estimated 100m people, would be expected to cut global GDP by up to 10%.

Trevor Maynard, Lloyd’s manager of emerging risks, said there are a number of reasons to suspect the next outbreak could be worse than in 1918.

He explained that while global healthcare is much better than at the beginning of the last century, the complex supply chains that hospitals rely on could easily break down and threaten the supply of life saving vaccines.

Further global travel far exceeds 1918 levels enabling a disease to spread more widely and rapidly, he said.

A bigger and more urbanised global population could also help the disease spread faster, claimed the report. Flu is mostly spread through water droplets produced by coughing or sneezing, these get exchanged more frequently within a city where people live in very close quarters.

The report also considered the knock-on effects of an outbreak. ‘The lawlessness experienced in New Orleans after Katrina could be repeated if police services were affected,’ said Lloyd’s in its report.

Estimates suggest the developing world would be the worst hit by a pandemic. Against a backdrop of other trends such as water shortages and global warming this could lead to an increase in political tensions, noted the document.

While avian flu is seen as the most likely trigger, a pandemic could be caused by a number of diseases, said Maynard.

‘We have to ensure we are prepared for other types of pandemics that may require different responses and pose different challenges,’ he said.

The report suggested MRSA and SARS were two other likely pathogens. Some reports suggest MRSA is responsible for more deaths annually in the US than AIDS. SARS caused a near pandemic in 2002. In just 6 weeks the virus had spread to 27 countries.

See also: UK’s top risks