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Zika virus boosts pandemic modeling business

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The Zika virus may be bad for sellers of tank tops this summer, but it could be good for makers of bug spray  and pandemic risk analysis tools.

Boston-based catastrophe modeling company AIR Worldwide has updated its marketing effort to point out that its emerging infectious diseases information and analysis tools can help health insurers, health plans and other providers of health-related products and services keep tabs on Zika.

AIR is best known for releasing instant estimates of the financial impact caused by earthquakes, wildfires and other disasters. Doug Fullam, a life actuary at AIR and who is also involved with pandemic modeling efforts at the Schaumburg, Ill.-based Society of Actuaries, declined to share AIR Zika impact forecasts.

But he said his company is looking at the possible impact of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which can cause paralysis in adults and children, as well the damage of Zika can do to fetal neurological development.

“Those two things can be very expensive, medically,” Fullam said. 

Read: SWAT team: Miami mosquito man faces Zika with tiny crew

Fullam is also tracking other diseases, including Ebola, which recently resurfaced in Africa, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which continues to circulate in Saudi Arabia. Some clients are interested in conditions such as Dengue fever, Rift Valley fever and the bubonic plague.

AIR offers the emerging disease services alongside services to help insurers track influenza, the disease that gives life and health carriers chronic nightmares. The deadliest modern flu pandemic, the pandemic of 1918, killed about 50 million people around the world.

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The pandemic occurred before the modern U.S. major medical insurance system had formed, but it hit U.S. life insurers hard. While the pandemic was under way, National Underwriter Life & Health, one of the print publications that created, carried stories about companies such as Prudential and Metropolitan Life struggling to process policyholders’ death claims while fighting to protect their employees.

Read: Infectious Diseases: Low Priority, But Risks Lurk

No one knows how the current world health care system would do at fighting a similar flu virus. 

Today, some insurers and reinsurers use emerging disease tracking tools for general information purposes, or to fine-tune overall risk forecasts. Others use the tools to write products, or product provisions, that specifically create or exclude coverage for certain conditions, Fullam said.

Zika may only affect the southern states that are friendliest to the mosquitoes that now carry it this summer, but, if it does settle in, it could be a risk to most of the continental United States next year, he said.

See also:

The next pandemic: Are insurers prepared?

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