The "Fowl Plague" title card, with a feather.

The world may be in the earliest scenes of a disaster movie. Avian influenza, better known as bird flu, is inflicting major economic damage to poultry farmers around the world, and is just a handful of genetic mutations away from turning into what could be the largest, deadliest pandemic that our planet has ever seen.

We asked award-winning journalist and writer Simon Parkin to investigate the past, present and future of this underestimated threat to humanity, speaking to epidemiologists doing cutting-edge research, farmers on the front line, and politicians battling budget cuts. The result was this five-part series, accompanied by a handful of supplementary materials to further contextualize the subject.


From the outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997, back through the history of avian influenza, to the ways the virus spreads and mutates, and then finally how we’re tackling it on a global scale.

A feather.

Prologue: Introduction

A bit of background on who, what, where, when and why

A close-up of a virus.

Episode 1: Inception

The outbreak in Hong Kong, 1997

A bird skull.

Episode 2: Foreshadowing

How avian flu shaped the Great War

A group of chickens peck at a person's exposed feet.

Episode 3: Birds on the March

The return of avian influenza

A person in a hazmat suit looking over test tubes.

Episode 4: Evolution

How a virus becomes a threat

A pile of skulls.

Episode 5: Outbreak

Our next global pandemic


Further explainers, data visualizations, glossaries, timelines, maps–plus a reading list.

Two people working in a lab.

Bonus: Reading List

Get up to speed fast on the debate around how we respond to emerging infectious diseases

A close-up of microscopic bodies.

Explainer: Zoonosis

How animal diseases become human diseases

A group of mosquitoes.

Explainer: The Machine and the Mosquito

How technology is joining the fight against one of the world’s most efficient vectors of disease

A panel from a comic, showing two people arguing.

Comic: Airborne

We’re only five mutations From a major pandemic

A large "Q&A" banner.

Bonus: Your Pandemics Questions Answered

Responses to reader questions about the series, and the threat of avian influenza

Fowl Plague logo featuring a feather

How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019.