Dr Charles Levinson leans back in his chair. It would be easy to dismiss the whole thing as scaremongering: experts warning that we could be sleepwalking into a new pandemic after an 11-year-old girl died with avian influenza – more commonly known as bird flu – in Cambodia last month.

Even more worrying is the news that a woman in China has become the first person to die from a type of bird flu that is rare in humans, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. The 56-year-old woman from the southern province of Guangdong was the third person known to have been infected with the H3N8 subtype of avian influenza, according to WHO.

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