The Moment

7|29|09: China

An influenza virus has only eight genes--far fewer than the estimated 25,000 that human beings possess--but its simplicity hasn't stopped it from wreaking havoc on humanity for centuries. Even today, with vaccines and antivirals, normal seasonal influenza kills some 36,000 Americans each year. And every once in a while, it gets much worse. When new flu viruses arise and begin spreading easily, they can trigger global pandemics. Sometimes they're relatively mild, like the pandemics of 1957 and '68. But sometimes they can be as catastrophic as the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed as many as 100 million people.

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