Presumably the designator H5N1 is already deeply imbedded in your memory. If not, it damn well should be! Today alone, the Financial Times had three articles on avian flu. I talked to someone close to the main CDC deliberations recently, and he informs me that the time has come to engage in modest panic. The odds of a pandemic, apparently, are edging up to 100% over the next couple of years. Deaths could easily be in the millions, or deca-millions, in the U.S.A. alone. Vaccine apparently simply will not cover all bets. He was talking practicalities—and suggesting that one's financial planning move into high gear. The world economy could come to a virtual (whoops, make that real) stop. Travel will be truncated. Public gatherings could be curtailed. Markets will doubtless plunge. Activities such as my speaking stuff will likely evaporate in a flash. Should we horde gold, buy concertina, and work on our epitaphs? Maybe not. But there is nothing modest about the problem, its vast implications, or the odds of it comin' on.
NB: The current (July/August 2005) issue of Foreign Affairs has a set of exceptionally thoughtful articles (here's one) on the topic, organized under the headline "The Next Pandemic?"