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Avian Flu: Pandemic of Tomorrow

A malady has gripped the nation, leaving millions dead. The disease is killing almost as fast as the undertakers can bury the dead and seems to spread like the wind. No one is entirely sure where it came from, but its lethality is undeniable: most of its victims survive less than twenty four hours after contracting the virus.

This could be 1918. It could also be tomorrow. The versatile influenza virus, continually changing as it moves between species and modifies its behavior on a molecular level, was responsible for one of the worst pandemics ever recorded during WWI. It is also a threat looming on the horizon as scientists fear that a particularly virulent strain of influenza (H5N1) is preparing to jump from birds to humans in the very near future. In this module, we will both excavate the often forgotten history of the 1918 influenza pandemic and examine the biology behind what may well be the next great threat to humanity.