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The Big One?

Author: Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health
April 24, 2013
Foreign Policy

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We are at a mysterious fork in the road. One path leads to years, perhaps decades, of spread of a new type of influenza, occasionally making people sick and killing about 18 percent of them. It's not a pleasant route, strewn as it is with uncertainties, but no terror seems to lurk on its horizon. The other path, however, wrenches the gut with fear, as it brings worldwide transmission of a dangerous new form of flu that could spread unchecked throughout humanity, testing global solidarity, vaccine production, hospital systems and humanity's most basic family and community instincts.

There may be some minor footpaths along the way, heading to other alternatives, but they can't be discerned at this moment. At this writing, 108 cases of H7N9 flu, as the new virus has been dubbed, have been confirmed, and one asymptomatic carrier of the virus has been identified. Twenty-two of the cases have proven fatal, and nine people have been cured of the new flu. The remainder are still hospitalized, many in severe condition suffering multiple organ failures. As the flu czar of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Keiji Fukuda, tersely put it to reporters last week, "Anything can happen. We just don't know."

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