In 1968, an especially virulent flu popped up in Hong Kong and quickly spread around the world; by the time it had run its course, more than 1 million people had died. Such great pandemics are bound to be repeated through history. The question is, where will the next one hit, and can we do anything to minimize the damage?
It's "yes" to the latter question and "potentially a whole load of cities" to the first, according to anew study by an international team of researchers. The scientists from UCLA, the United Nations, Egypt's "National Laboratory for Quality Control on Poultry Production" and elsewhere have made their top picks for where the next deadly influenza epidemic could strike: China's coastal regions, the Nile Delta and eastern Asia head the list. They're urging governments in these places to keep a close bead on signs of a spreading flu, so they can throw a cap on it before it becomes a worldwide plague.
These researchers are interested in kinds of flu similar to the 1968 strain, hardhitting illnesses forged through the process of "reassortment" – two types of virus meeting inside a host to spawn an even more virulent entity. So they started looking for geographic areas with an overlap among human flu (H3N2) outbreaks, bird flu outbreaks (H5N1) and swine populations. The pigs were a necessary part of the puzzle because, the scientists note, they can act like a "mixing vessel for reassortment of subtypes H5N1 and H3N2."