In 1918, the final year of the savage trench fighting of World War I, something else began felling the soldiers.No one knows for sure when or where the Spanish flu emerged, though it certainly wasn't in Spain.
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What is known about flu viruses' remarkable capacity to change and jump species has led to a sense of inevitability, a conviction that even if this menacing animal flu doesn't explode into a global pandemic that kills millions, another one will.
"It's going to happen, at some point, that a virus like this changes to be able to transmit from one person to another," says Jeremy Farrar, an Oxford University doctor who works on the front lines of avian flu at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City. And when it does, the world is going to face a truly horrible pandemic."After all, it has happened before.
"She was so small, just ten years old," says her grandmother, sitting on a hammock. If you look at her older sister"—the 17-year-old hangs back shyly—"you can imagine what she was like." Ngoan's grandfather, silent with grief, lights a stick of incense at her grave.
The loss of a beloved child has hit this family hard.
And scientists have stepped up their research into the fateful traffic of disease between animals and people. Some people think a flu shot isn't worth the bother. The virus spreads so easily via tiny droplets that 30 million to 60 million Americans catch it each year. It mutates so fast that no one ever becomes fully immune, and a new vaccine has to be made each year. But the disease that is taking lives in Southeast Asia is no ordinary flu.