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Bird Flu: Is a Pandemic Looming in Our Future?

Author(s): Deanne Erdmann, MS, Christopher Burnett, BA, and Nancy Moreno, PhD

Flu Pandemics of the 20th Century

Pandemics occur when a simultaneous, widespread outbreak of influenza A virus occurs worldwide, regardless of sanitation, hygiene, or standards of health. Pandemics are possible when a specific, highly virulent strain of flu undergoes a genetic change that allows it to circulate within a population that has no immunity to the novel strain. “Spanish flu” of 1918 was by far the most devastating, killing between 20 and 40 million people. The Asian flu killed 100,000 people in 1957, while 700,000 people died in the 1969 Hong Kong flu pandemic. Health officials are concerned that a number of factors have lined up to set the stage for the first worldwide influenza outbreak of the 21st Century.