FluWrap: Money dominates flu fears

By KATE WALKER, UPI Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Fear of bird flu is turning out to be good financial news for some high-profile investors, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Between 1997 and 2001 Rumsfeld was chairman of Gilead Sciences, a California-based company that owns the rights to Tamiflu, the best-known anti-viral for treating the symptoms of avian influenza.


He still owns a stake in the company that is estimated to be valued between $5 million and $25 million, according to his federal financial disclosures. While the number of shares held by Rumsfeld is unknown, as share prices have gone from $35 to $47, it is believed that the value of his stake will have increased by at least $1 million, CNN reported.

There is no suggestion that Rumsfeld's financial involvement in Gilead is improper, and in September he took the step of asking the Pentagon to issue official guidelines covering the extent of his involvement should the military need to respond to the possible pandemic.


Following the advice of a private securities lawyer, Rumsfeld took the decision to maintain his stake in Gilead, as the sale of his shares could draw accusations of insider trading.


-- Indonesia announced Thursday that three children have been displaying symptoms of bird flu. The children, all under five years of age, are being treated in hospital, although confirmation of their test results is not expected for several days.

-- As a 25-year-old woman is hospitalized with suspected avian flu in Vietnam, the country has reported that two deaths last week, initially believed to have been the result of bird flu, were in fact due to other causes, as yet unnamed.

It is unclear how this discovery was made, as doctors claimed they did not perform any tests.

-- Recent coverage of avian influenza has been dominated by talk of finance.

The World Bank has announced that a bird-flu pandemic would create "enormous global costs" affecting tourism, transport and retail. A yearlong human pandemic could cost $283 billion in Asian countries alone.

The United States is forecasting potential domestic health costs of $181 billion, a figure that doesn't include projected disruption to the economy.

Despite these prognoses, the potential pandemic has yet to affect the world's stock markets.


Investors consider avian flu to be a risk but have not yet allowed it to guide their trading strategies.

"It is still too early to have a major rethinking of the outlook," said William De Vijlder, chief investment officer of Fortis Investments.

Pharmaceutical companies are profiting from the widespread concern, with shares in Roche, the makers of the anti-viral Tamiflu, up 46 percent this year.

-- French officials Thursday tested their preparedness strategy for avian influenza, sealing off a farm in Brittany and taking samples from birds. In the second part of the exercise, to be performed Friday, they will focus on the action taken once an outbreak has been identified.

-- China held its own bird-flu drill in Hunan province Wednesday.

-- On a lighter note, officials in Sweden who believed they were facing the country's first case of avian influenza after discovering a seagull behaving oddly and "with yellow liquid coming out of its beak and anus" were relieved to learn that the bird was in fact drunk. The presumed cause was eating yeast from a garbage dump.

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