Fear of flu epidemic hurts stocks, helps some drug companies

Stocks around the world are under pressure as a form of swine flu spread beyond Mexico where it has killed over 80 people and infected more than 1,300 others.

Because of the nature of the disease there are concerns that it could cause a pandemic, crippling international travel and undermining worker productivity.

Since the investigation into the spread of the flu is only in its early stages, concerns may be a false alarm. The last global pandemic, the Hong Kong flu, happened in 1968 and 1969 and killed nearly a million people, but improvements in healthcare and health monitoring have made that kind of rapid spread of a disease much less likely.

But, in a panic, some businesses prosper. Shares of Roche (RHHBY), which makes flu vaccine Tamiflu, are pushing higher, but it is not clear that there will be much heightened demand for the drug.

For the time being, it appears that the economic concerns about the flu outbreak are overblown and like many other flu panics over the past 40 years, it will come to nothing.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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