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Medical News & Perspectives
March 24/31, 2004

Agencies Prepare Worst-Case Flu Vaccine

JAMA. 2004;291(12):1429-1430. doi:10.1001/jama.291.12.1429

As global health workers keep close tabs on the avian influenza outbreak in southeast Asia, their counterparts in the laboratory are concocting vaccines for a worst-case scenario—the spread of a pandemic strain, unseen since the 1918 scourge that claimed at least 20 million lives.

While the number of human cases of H5N1 influenza in Vietnam and Thailand remains small—32 at press time—epidemiologists stay awake nights shuddering over the nearly 70% mortality rate. In contrast, the annual influenza (both type A and type B) epidemic that hits North America each winter kills about 1% of those it infects.