James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Besides being a human tragedy, a deadly pandemic is, quite literally, the last thing a global economy suffering a huge drop off in trade and activity needs.

To be very clear, we’ve no idea how severe or widespread the evolving outbreak of a new form of swine flu will be and indications that it seems to be becoming milder as it travels from Mexico are reassuring.

You only need to look at photos of deserted streets, shops and theatres in Mexico City to get a sense of the hit to consumer demand, but the potential for damage to production and distribution is profound too.

One guide for the impact of a dire pandemic is the experience during the Spanish Flu, which spread rapidly across much of the world during 1918 and 1919. About a quarter of the global population was infected and somewhere between 50 and 100 million people lost their lives, according to estimates.