A nurse prepares an injection of the influenza vaccine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts
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Within months, the virus infected a third of the world's population and killed as many as 100 million people.Unlike many other viruses, the flu germ exists in dozens of sub-types of which two, H1N1 and H3N2, currently circulate in humans.The flu virus has evolved to evade detection by patrolling antibody "soldiers".Its first, and most common strategy is called "antigenic drift" -- tiny genetic changes that occur as the virus replicates, rendering it ever so slightly different each new flu season. This happens when genetic material is exchanged between Influenza A subtypes -- sometimes a mix between animal and human viruses -- to concoct a brand-new strain to which few people, if any, have immunity.Since the Spanish Flu, three much less deadly pandemics were caused in this way: the Asian Flu in 1957, the Hong Kong Flu in 1968, and the so-called Swine Flu outbreak in 2009 . The flu virus has another evolutionary edge too.
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