There’s some pretty scary stuff in this week’s issue.

First, I refer you to the cover story on page 12 by Jim Connolly that has to do with a potential avian flu pandemic that may land here either next year or some time shortly thereafter.

Experts differ about how deadly such a pandemic might be and their estimates are all over the lot. But ING Re, for one, takes pretty seriously an estimate that 1.76 million people could die in the United States alone in a wave of avian flu.

Worldwide, the estimates for deaths from this flu are nothing short of terrifying. This flu has the potential to kill 180 million to 360 million people, according to an article written in the May 2005 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine by Michael Osterholm, an expert in the field.

It is impossible–I was going to say almost impossible, but no, it is truly impossible–to comprehend a disaster of this magnitude.

Remember last December when the tsunami struck South Asia and the toll quickly mounted to about 200,000? The world reeled.

Over the years there have been disasters, such as earthquakes, whose casualties have totaled in the thousands. But these events have tended to be localized calamities, even if their death toll was high.

Trying to get your mind around a worldwide pandemic where millions are killed is just not something most people can do or have any inclination to do. Yet in such a calamity there will be localized pockets of death with tolls in the thousands, but they will be happening all over the world and at the same time.

Most people are just going to shut down before they think about this or they’ll take refuge from reality by going to see something like “War of the Worlds.”

Turning to something a bit less Spielberg-ish, I refer you to Linda Koco’s article in our Advising Boomers section on page 20. This deals with something so scary on a personal level that many baby boomers don’t want to face it: getting older.

Not only do boomers not want to deal with getting older, but they also don’t want to hear about the likelihood of living a lot longer and as a consequence outliving the money they have accumulated for retirement.

Yes, we’re back in familiar boomer territory here, back on the banks of denial, that big river in Egypt.

First, these funds that have been saved for retirement are not all that big to begin with in the case of many boomers. It’s been well documented that there is a widespread underestimation across the demographic about how much wherewithal is necessary to support a lifestyle in retirement to which one has become accustomed in one’s working years. And when those working years have been characterized by a spend, spend, spend mentality that is compounded with the accumulation of mountainous debt, well…scary stuff, indeed.

As Gregory Theis, an investment advisor with Woodbury Financial Services in Homer Glen, Ill., told Ms. Koco: “Few realize they have to change how they handle their money now in order to have enough money to last for a potentially very long life.”

In both these cases–a possible pandemic and outliving your savings–there’s an inability to face the fact that disasters do happen. And it’s not always to somebody else.

Steve Piontek

Editor-in-Chief

Trying to get your mind around a worldwide pandemic where millions are killed is just not something most people can do or have any inclination to do. Yet in such a calamity there will be localized pockets of death with tolls in the thousands.”