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Health experts say it might start like this: A contract manufacturing worker in China goes home sick with a fever and sore throat to his tiny peasant chicken farm. His family, alerted by months of government warnings about bird flu, packs the worker onto a bus for the local hospital. But the ordinary flu he caught at work has mixed genetic material with the avian flu he picked up on his farm.
Before doctors can admit him, he infects hundreds of people, each of whom will infect hundreds more, among his family, in his workplace, his village, the bus and the hospital. The next worldwide pandemic is loose.
No one knows if this scenario of global health catastrophe will materialize. Many scientists say the chance of bird flu mutating into a human transmissible form is remote. But if it happens, say logistics experts, the ability of existing supply channels to get critical cargo to the right places at the right time will be sorely tested.
"The drive toward cost minimization at all costs ... has made supply chains vulnerable--scary vulnerable," said Jeff Karrenbauer, president of supply chain software and consulting firm Insight. "If this goes truly worldwide, with multiple countries and multiple borders involved, I'm not sure …