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Expert says flu outbreak could hit the UK affecting millions

The NHS struggled this winter with hospitals running out of beds trying to care for more than 4,000 victims each day.

This winter has been hit by one of the worst flu outbreaks in recent years and the disease has killed 215 people in the UK since October.

In the peak of the outbreak there were 8.9 million people suffering with flue in one week in January, and reminds us how deadly it can be.

To fully understand the danger that flu can cause it is important to look back to the worst outbreak in history, the Spanish flu pandemic that swept the globe in 1918.

Experts believe that it killed 100 million people in total across the world.

The Spanish flu claimed five times as many lives as the First World War, and twice as many as the Black Death. It spread so fast it killed more people in 24 weeks than HIV and AIDS did in 24 years, according to the Mirror Online .

However, unlike the Black death, the flu is not just a chapter in the history books, and unlike HIV, we are no closer to managing the disease.

One of the world’s leading flu experts warns a global outbreak could begin “tomorrow” and kill 33 million people in 200 days.

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Jonathan Quick, chairman of the Global Health Council and a project leader for the World Health Organisation, has written a new book called Ending Epidemics: The Looming Threat to Humanity and How to Stop It.

He warned: “With disrupted supply of food and medicines and without enough survivors to run computer or energy systems, the global company would collapse.

“Starvation and looting could lay waste to parts of the world.

“It’s a disaster movie night. Yet it is waiting to come true thanks to influenza, the most diabolical viral killer known to humankind.

“The conditions are right, it could happen tomrorow.

“The good news is that there is much we can do to prevent this. The bad news is that much of it is not being done. We are just as vulnerable now as we were 100 years ago.”

Experts now believe that conditions are ripe for a new pandemic to occur, as deadly as Spanish flu. One reason is that there has been a rise in the proportion of diseases that cross over from animals, which could then cross over to humans.

75 per cent of new infections during the last ten years have come from animals, and they are mutated diseases which are harder to treat and contain.

Also, the growth of international travel for holidays and business means a new virus could spread rapidly.

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Although modern medicine has progressed with some vaccinations available against certain strains of flu, hospitals could not treat patients fast enough if a high number of people were infected.

Dr Greg Poland, an expert in viruses at the Mayo Clinic, said another global flu crisis was “100 per cent” certain.

He said: “We will have another pandemic. What’s unpredictable is the severity of it.

“When you begin to feel comfortable, you’re well on the road to bad things happening.”

There are conflicting theories on how the Spanish flu began, although experts agree it was the deadliest disease in history.

Some believe that it began in China, but, the most widely accepted theory is that it began in America, spreading from birds to pigs, then humans.

Much like the swine flu epidemic that reached across the world in 2009

It is believed the first cases were in Haskell County in Kansas in January and February, 1918. Unlike most strains of flu, which affect the children and elderly most, farmers in their prime were also struck down.

People who seemed fine in the morning could be dead by nightfall.

The first officially confirmed case was exactly 100 years ago this weekend, at a US Army base Fort Riley, where the cook Albert Gitchell was taken to the infirmary with cold-like symptoms.

Within hours 107 men had fallen ill, and several days later the figure rose to 500.

How did it spread?

No measures were taken to contain the disease, which was believed to be the major cause of the epidemic.

When soldiers travelled to other bases or to the front line in Europe they carried the disease with them.

By the end of the war more than one million men had carried the disease to the trenches and back to Britain.

Conservative MP and diplomat Colonel Mark Sykes died in his hotel room in Paris after falling ill in February 1919. His descendants allowed researchers to open his lead-lined coffin to check whether any flu particles had survived to be studied in 2007.

British Prime Minister Lloyd George caught Spanish flu but survived. London hospitals were struggling with the war and were overwhelmed by the number of sick patients.

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