Today, the flu is something that causes you to feel lousy and miss work for a week, but in 1918, a global flu pandemic killed 40 million people. Scientists are warning it could happen again.

“The natural history of influenza suggests it is only a matter of time before another influenza pandemic occurs,” says Dr. Martin Meltzer of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He says that in the U.S. it would kill 89,000 to 207,000 people. There would also be 3214,000 to 734,000hospitalizations, 18 to 42 million outpatient visits and 20 to 47 million additional, untreated, cases. The economic cost would be $71.3 to $166.5 billion.

“Once the pandemic virus enters a particular community, it spreads within a period of weeks,” warned Dr. Arnold Monto, professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. “While vaccine would be the ideal method ofprevention in pandemics, the supply may be insufficient at the point that outbreaks begin.” This is important to take note of because this year there has been a shortage of flu vaccine.

Scientists recommend that we stockpile influenza drugs, so we can be prepared for the inevitable future. We also need to plan for this type of medical emergency. Monto believes that existing antiviral drugs would be effective and could be stockpiled, unlike flu vaccine, which changes every year, according to the current flu virus mutation.

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