Large catastrophes have caused the collapse of empires and civilisations.1 Science and knowledge may help prevent some catastrophes, but urbanisation and narrowly concentrated food supplies, climate change and terrorism contribute to considerable risk. Viruses responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and avian influenza A (H5N1) or “bird flu” are among the most immediately identifiable risks. The World Health Organization has stated that the risk scenario associated with an outbreak of pandemic H5N1 influenza should be considered more serious than was previously assumed.2
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