Similar markets have been created in the past to predict the outcome of elections and hurricanes. The two-year project, developed at the University of Iowa and funded with nearly $250,000 donated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, hopes to recruit at least 100 epidemiologists, veterinarians and other medical experts from around the world.
The idea is to form an online trading system akin to agricultural futures markets. At issue is the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has killed 167 people in 10 countries since 2003. Currently, the strain does not spread easily from person to person but health officials fear that it will mutate into a highly contagious form that could kill millions worldwide.
Contracts represent the likelihood that the bird flu will infect a human in various parts of the world. Contracts that a person in Hong Kong will catch bird flu by July 1 are trading at 43 cents. That means the experts believe there is a 43% chance of that occurring. Contracts for the same thing happening in North or South America by July 1 are currently trading at 5 cents.
The goal of the project is to develop a faster way to collect expert opinion about the potential spread of deadly diseases.