The Flu Hunters

When a mysterious and deadly flu virus struck Hong Kong last year, medical detectives from around the world, fearing a repeat of the 1918 epidemic that killed more than 20 million, sprang into action.

It was a subtle warp in an otherwise routine day. Dr. Wilina Lim, chief virologist with the Hong Kong Department of Health, was sorting through the usual load of blood and tissue specimens sent to her laboratory from nearby hospitals, typically about 80 a day. On this particular day--Tuesday, May 20, 1997--one specimen came from Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kowloon, at the far side of Victoria Harbor, where a three-year-old boy had been admitted with what turned out to be a fatal respiratory illness. Her lab quickly determined that the infectious agent was some type of Influenza A, one of two...

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