In both mainstream and alternative-news circles, fears of an incoming recession have increased. Geopolitical tensions have ratcheted up, while the Trump administration so far failed to secure a trade deal with China. But one of the most disconcerting threats to the economy is an often underappreciated one: disease outbreaks.

The concept of an epidemic and its resultant health crisis is not an uncommon one. Over the years, we’ve seen books, movies, and TV shows discussing this threat. Even pop-culture phenomenon, such as the apocalyptic The Walking Dead, borrow themes from programs depicting disease outbreaks.

But because this threat is often stylized and dramatized in Hollywood features, it’s tempting not to take the issue seriously. Moreover, epidemics often center on developing parts of the world. As members of developed communities, we’re insulated from the everyday pain and suffering afflicting nameless millions.

However, advanced technologies and improved transportation networks lever an unintended side-effect: quite often, Third World problems become our own. Not only that, they lever an asymmetric impact. It only takes one person with an infectious condition to spark disease outbreaks across multiple regions.

Even then, we regard such issues as medical or scientific in nature. Unfortunately, with the delicate balance of our interconnected world, epidemics are more an economic threat than a humanitarian one.


The Exponential Cost of Disease Outbreaks

According to the World Economic Forum, the SARS outbreak that occurred in the early 2000s levered a very real cost: $50 billion, to be exact.

Now that doesn’t sound like much in today’s financially-engineered ecosystem. Nevertheless, on a per-capita basis, the SARS outbreak was a painful shot across the bow. Further incidents of this magnitude could realistically cripple the developed world.

The devil is in the details. In the aftermath of the SARS outbreak, approximately 8,000 people fell ill. Just doing the simple math, that means each affected individual contributed $6.25 million to the overall cost. That’s an astonishing figure for one reason: at over $6 million, this exceeds the average earnings of a person living in the U.S.

Let’s suppose that an individual works for 50 years, averaging an annual income of $70,000. This is a generous haul considering that the average U.S. salary is around $50,000. At this rate, this person will earn a lifetime of $3.5 million.

But with the SARS outbreak, disease management cost almost twice as much as an average worker’s lifelong earnings. Imagine the liability if another SARS occurred, and with greater frequency. At some point, the global economy would collapse.

That’s why you really need to pay attention to potential disease outbreaks. It’s the hidden threat that could take down an empire.