"Optimistic models" project that if the avian flu moves frombirds to humans and causes a pandemic, it could cause $15 billionto $20 billion in U.S. insured losses, according to a Standard andPoor's analysis.

The New York rating services firm said that overall worldwidelosses of $71.3 billion to $200 billion could result and that theheaviest impact could fall on big cities with large transitsystems.

The $15 billion to $20 billion figure, based on U.S. Center forDisease Control data, reflects medical advances and containmentefforts of the type that restricted Severe Acute RespiratorySyndrome (SARS) in 2003, S&P said.

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