To disease detectives at the world’s leading public health agencies, influenza is an all-too familiar foe. First isolated in 1932, the virus – a single-stranded member of the orthomyxovirus family – occurs every year in every country, seasonally and sporadically, killing between 250 000 and 500 000 people and causing severe illness in several million more, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Over the past three centuries, there have been at least 10 global influenza pandemics and three in the last century alone, among them the so-called ‘Spanish flu’ of 1918–1919. The single most devastating disease outbreak in human history, that pandemic is believed to have caused between 20 million and 50 million deaths worldwide. It is the prospect of another such catastrophe, and the staggering toll of seasonal flu, that has made influenza the world’s second-most studied virus, behind HIV.
And my quote of the article:
“Monitoring birds is very important, but we should be doing much more work on influenza in pigs. We know the numbers are huge and we don’t know what exactly is happening there.” – Ab Osterhaus