More than half a million Midlanders could fall victim to human influenza in the event of a pandemic, health experts warned yesterday.
Projected figures issued by the Health Protection Agency in the West Midlands revealed up to 550,000 people could be affected by an outbreak, which could claim 14,000 lives.
The last pandemic was in 1968/69 when Hong Kong Flu swept around the globe killing between one and four million people worldwide, with 30,000 deaths in Britain.
There have been three global outbreaks in the 20th Century - in 1918, 1957 and 1968 - and public health organisations are now putting together contingency plans for the next out-break, although there is no intelligence to pinpoint when that will occur.
Alastair Bartholomew, HPA's health planning emergency adviser for the West Midlands, said: "In 1968 it took two months for pandemic to reach the UK, but if a similar outbreak were to happen now it would take just two to four weeks.
"It's been 38 years since the last pandemic and the shortest gap between outbreaks is 11 years, so we can't be sure when or where it will happen, but if we don't prepare now we're at serious risk of being caught out.
"About 25 per cent of the West Midlands population could become ill within 38 weeks of a pandemic reaching the region, and of those 2.5 per cent will die, that's about 2,100 deaths. At its peak about 16,500 people will need hospital treatment."
Sue Ibbotson, the agency's regional director, said a vaccine would not be available for those caught up in the pandemic's first wave. For more information visit www.dh.gov.uk/pandemicflu or www.ukresilience.info