Disease experts have long thought the world overdue for a new pandemic. Today, with the Mexican swine flu outbreak dominating the headlines, and despite improvements in disease surveillance systems, we are scarcely in a better position to identify new pandemics than we were when the deadly strains of influenza killed millions at the turn of the 19th century.
In the autumn of 1889, a lethal type of influenza swept across the Urals and into Russia, devastating St Petersburg and Moscow. No one saw it coming, and by the time the Russian influenza had burnt itself out, some 250,000 Europeans were…
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