Livestock officials dressed in bird flu protective gear in Ayutthaya, 50 miles north of Bangkok, August 19, 2004.
Sukree Sukplang / Reuters

Almost a century ago, a new and deadly strain of influenza spread around the world, shutting down schools and businesses and filling hospitals well beyond their capacity. In the end, the 1918 flu pandemic claimed the lives of approximately 50 to 100 million people, and it infected about one-third of the global population. Since then, medical care has vastly improved, and science has made major gains in vaccines and medicines. Yet the potential remains for a lethal strain of influenza or other contagious pathogen to overwhelm global health care systems by spreading at a rate that outpaces our ability to respond. In such

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