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Unprepared for a Pandemic

Courtesy Reuters

SOUNDING THE ALARM, AGAIN

More than a year and a half ago, Foreign Affairs published three articles that sounded a clarion call to prepare for the next pandemic. They warned that another pandemic could occur at any time and at a staggering cost to human health and the world economy. These facts remain incontrovertible. At the time, many public health scientists believed that recent outbreaks of the H5N1 influenza virus in birds in Asia, Europe, and Africa, with occasional infections in humans, were precursors to the next pandemic. They still do today.

Like earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis, influenza pandemics are recurring natural disasters. The natural reservoir of influenza virus is wild aquatic birds. But for a human influenza pandemic to occur, a strain of an avian influenza virus must develop to which humans have no preexisting immunity and undergo critical genetic changes that allow it to be readily transmitted

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