H1N1 influenza could slow growth in key industries and stall the already-weak GDP growth in the third and fourth quarters of 2009 in the US, says a report.
"Tourism and travel are vitally important sectors in the economy of many US cities and communities," says Bryce Sutton of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Business who led the team that conducted the study.
"Depending upon the severity of the spread of the virus, consumers and businesses may respond by restricting travel and vacation plans, which would dampen an already weak recovery in these areas."
As many as 60 million Americans annually travel 50 miles (80 km) or more from home during the peak vacation period surrounding the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Sutton says airlines, hotels and other service industries impacted by tightened consumer spending could face double jeopardy should H1N1 infections or even fears of exposure keep would-be travellers at home.
According to him, other business sectors could suffer too if sick workers and absences cut deeply into productivity and revenues.
"Although business managers have had time to prepare contingency plans, those that already have cut the number of employees in an effort to reduce costs during the downturn may be hardest hit," Sutton says.
"In many cases, companies that already are working with the bare minimum staff face further productivity challenges should large numbers of the remaining employees contract H1N1."
Sutton says more research is needed to measure the more precise impact of the H1N1 virus once the traditional US flu season has passed.
"The most recent case we have to study is the Asian SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, which negatively impacted a range of industries in Asia."
SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is a respiratory disease that assumed near-pandemic proportions between November 2002 and July 2003 and, according to one report, killed 774 people in 37 countries.