The initial outbreak of a bird flu pandemic may not be very contagious, affecting only a few people, giving the world just weeks to contain the deadly virus before it spreads and kills millions.
First SARS -- now this. It seems we're ducking (no pun intended) new plagues right and left. So far we've been extremely lucky.
The Gaia Hypothesis posits that our planet is a collective living organism whose major function is to maintain homeostasis. If this is the case, it's easy to interpret new disease outbreaks as attempts to wipe us out, or maybe just test our defenses before launching a bacteriological "shock and awe" attack.
I think the first tentative shots in this new world war are being fired.