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Pandemic series: a new Spanish Flu?


The worst pandemic in modern times, killing up to 50 million people worldwide from 1918-1919, was the so-called "Spanish Flu." Emerging today, such a virus could spread very rapidly worldwide relative to 1918; on the other hand we presently have countermeasures (including experience in creating and manufacturing flu vaccines) that did not exist then. So it is unclear how these countervailing effects would interact.

Also unclear is the frequency of emergence of novel flu strains with high human pathology. Large-scale flu outbreaks since 1918 have not had nearly as high a death toll, but the data prior to 1918 is less clear (see this paper for an accounting) and the world was far less connected in those times.

So here we assess the probability of a re-do of the the Spanish Flu: a natural flu that kills tens of millions worldwide in a single year, sometime in the coming two decades. We can all hope this number is small — but how small?

Will there be more than 50M deaths worldwide in a single 1-year period due to an influenza strain of natural origin by 2035?

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