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 bit of background on who, what, where, when and why
Episode 1: Inception
The outbreak in Hong Kong, 1997
Episode 2: Foreshadowing
How avian flu shaped the Great War
Episode 3: Birds on the March
The return of avian influenza
Episode 4: Evolution
How a virus becomes a threat
Episode 5: Outbreak
Our next global pandemic
Further explainers, data visualizations, glossaries, timelines, maps–plus a reading list.
Bonus: Reading List
Get up to speed fast on the debate around how we respond to emerging infectious diseases
How animal diseases become human diseases
Explainer: The Machine and the Mosquito
How technology is joining the fight against one of the world’s most efficient vectors of disease
We’re only five mutations From a major pandemic
Responses to reader questions about the series, and the threat of avian influenza
How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019.