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If avian flu were to develop into a pandemic as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu, it would cause about 62 million deaths worldwide, 96 percent of them in the developing world, according to a Dec. 21 report by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Queensland in Australia.
Lead researcher Christopher Murray, director of the Harvard Initiative for Global Health, and his team looked at data from 1918 to investigate patterns in the types of populations that were hit hardest.
They then applied their findings to today’s world, inflating the death figures relative to the world’s current population.
In 1918, as few as 0.2 percent of the Danish population succumbed to the flu, while 9.8 percent of central India fell ill.
Murray, the Saltonstall Professor of Population Policy who also directs the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, said in a press statement, “Quite simply, much more of the international attention needs to focus on how we can protect the poorer countries should this virus reoccur.”
In the United States, fears of an outbreak are nevertheless felt close to home.
“People are more cognizant and aware of getting the flu because there’s been more talking of avian flu and of flu vaccine shortages,” said University Health Services (UHS) Chief of Nursing Maria Francesconi.
So far this year, UHS has vaccinated about 10,000 people for flu, a number that matches the record high set in 2003, according to Francesconi.
The vaccine is still available at UHS.
—Staff writer Madeline M. G. Haas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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