Asian Flu as it is popularly called started in the early months of 1957, and in a span of two years it had advanced to the entire world. An epidemic becomes a pandemic when the illness crosses many countries. World got wind of the outbreak only in February. Conjecture has it that the outbreak had started in November, 1956, but China kept it a secret. China has still not changed.
A positive about the 1957 flu was that at the time Eisenhower was the US president. Even though he was a decorated war general, he did not believe in wars. He would use everything at his disposal-diplomacy, talk and even bluff to avoid a war. In spite of being the US Army General he invested in sciences, NASA was started under him. He was known to have a disposition of a person who didn’t need to brag to prove his worth. So, when news first broke out of 1957 pandemic, Eishenhower’s leadership was quick to acknowledge and react. The US was able to control the infections in 1957, unlike now. We are still struggling with the covid-19 crisis,leadership matters.Trump, conversely, is the opposite. He hewed the funding for infectious diseases, cut down on endowment on other STEM related activities and was unperceptive to realize the temerity the COVID-19 is capable of causing. China even then was the same as now, and Eishenhower wanted to end communism in China. China has still not changed
Coming back to the topic:
Influenza is divided into four categories of viruses – A, B, C, D. The A type (H1N1, H2N2) are the ones that cause epidemics, B types are small localized outbreaks, C types cause a mild respiratory illness and D types of viruses do not cause any known illnesses. Also, some viruses are RNA viruses(like Covid-19)- in simple terms it means these viruses don’t have to convert or change their form in human hosts to infect them.
Influenza pandemics occur every 50 years. The 1918 pandemic was the deadliest and approximately after 50 years we had the Asian Flu. In February, 1957 a new virus had originated in China -H2N2. It was spreading quickly and rapidly throughout Asia and the Middle East. People had still not forgotten Spanish Flu, which had wiped out 1/3rd of the world’s population. (COVID-19 originated in China too) China has still not changed.
In the months of late March and April, 1957, Maurice Hilleman realized that the US was going to suffer from another pandemic if steps weren’t taken quickly. Maurice Hilleman, a microbiologist and creator of 40 vaccines knew the positives of reacting early. The newspapers in the US were reporting about the outbreak in Hong Kong. He was particularly intrigued with one particular line in the newspaper “ the long waiting lines for clinics, the paper said “women carried glassy-eyed children tied to their backs.”
Hilleman also read that 250,000 Hong Kong residents were receiving treatment for this flu. He knew China’s numbers (like now) could not be trusted. There were probably more people infected with this new strain of Influenza virus.
China was not revealing any correct data, but Times newspaper of England on April 17 also had this comment : ‘an influenza epidemic has affected thousands of Hong Kong residents’ heralded the start of rapid movement across the East with 100 000 cases in Taiwan by mid-May and over a million in India by June. (China has still not changed)
While Hilleman was ready at work, news from the UK was not favourable. By the month of June several were infected. Patients common symptoms were wobbly legs, nose bleed, high fever and cough. Those who became serious ultimately succumbed to pneumonia. Politics and Public Health shared different perspectives. UK suffered.
The virus reached India but the fatalities weren’t severe. The virus was not as deadly. It was discovered in India that consumption of iodine helped in killing the virus.
The day after reading the story, Hillman sent a cable to an Army Medical General Laboratory in Zama, Japan, asking the staff to investigate what was going on in Hong Kong. A medical officer identified a member of the U.S. Navy who’d become infected in Hong Kong, and sent the serviceman’s saliva back to Hilleman in the United States so he could study the virus.
He compared the saliva with the different serums available to him at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He discovered that this particular sample was different from the past influenza patients. He was worried and he alarmed the literatis and the scientists. He was sure that if the US didn’t act soon, the country would be under a pandemic like Spanish Flu by September. It would have helped that Eishenhower was the President of the US at the time. By the time the flu hit in September, a vaccine was ready, saving lives.