The much-feared bird flu pandemic could claim as much as 140 million valuable lives, based on reports of Australian researchers.
The authors of the report, internationally renowned economic modeller Warwick McKibbin and fellow Australian National University academic Alexandra Sidorenko, estimate that even a mild pandemic could kill 1.4 million people and cost the global economy $330 billion in lost production.
The report warned that developing effective drugs was problematic because of the 'need to hit the constantly moving target as the virus mutates very rapidly.'
It put the worst-case death toll at 28.4 million in China, 24 million in India, 11.4 million in Indonesia, 4.1 million in the Philippines, 2.1 million in Japan, two million in the US and 5.6 million in Europe.
The poorest countries would be the worst hit, accounting for 33 million of the global total. The Asia-Pacific region would be disproportionately affected, the report said, with the possibility of the Hong Kong economy being more than halved in value.
'The large-scale collapse of Asia causes global trade flows to dry up and capital to flow to safe havens in North America and Europe,' the report said.
The study, commissioned by the Lowy Institute think tank here, was released as Germany and Austria were added to the list of countries where the deadly H5N1 virus has been identified in dead birds.
The H5N1 virus is known to have infected 140 people around the world and killed 70. While the virus has been passed from birds to humans, there is no recorded incidence of the 'nightmare scenario' of the virus being passed from human to human.