Monday, June 1, 2020

The 1957 Asian Flu Pandemic - A Lesson for 2020

While the current COIVD-19 pandemic seems like a once-in-a-lifetime event and is being sold to us in those terms, in fact, there was a very serious pandemic back in the late 1950s that resulted in the deaths of more than one hundred thousand Americans.

Here is the summary of the "Asian Flu" from the Centers for Disease Control website:

"In February 1957, a new influenza A (H2N2) virus emerged in East Asia, triggering a pandemic (“Asian Flu”). This H2N2 virus was comprised of three different genes from an H2N2 virus that originated from an avian influenza A virus, including the H2 hemagglutinin and the N2 neuraminidase genes. It was first reported in Singapore in February 1957, Hong Kong in April 1957, and in coastal cities in the United States in summer 1957 (Newport, Rhode Island in early June 1957). The estimated number of excess deaths related to the Asian Flu was 1.1 million worldwide (range from 0.7 million to 1.5 million) and 116,000 in the United States."

It is important to note that the virus that caused the Asian Flu was considered a novel strain at the time, the same as the current SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Here is what Sino Biological has to say about the Asian Flu:

"The 1957 influenza pandemic (the "Asian Flu") was one of the famous influenza pandemics in history.The "Asian Flu" was a category 2 flu pandemic outbreak of avian influenza that originated in China (Guizhou) in early 1956 lasting until 1958. It originated from mutation in wild ducks combining with a pre-existing human strain. A vaccine for H2N2 was introduced in 1957, and the pandemic slowed down. There was a second wave in 1958, and H2N2 went on to become part of the regular wave of seasonal flu. In 1968, the H2N2 Asian Flu disappeared from the human population and is believed to have gone extinct in the wild. Vials of H2N2 influenza remain in laboratories across the world. The 1957 pandemic influenza H2N2 Hemagglutinin (HA) proteins and antibodies were the main research tools for this influenza pandemic."

In the United Kingdom, by early 1958, it was estimated that not less than 9 million people in Great Britain had the Asian influenza with about 14,000 people dying of the immediate effects of their attacks.  There were complications in 3 percent of cases and a 0.3 percent mortality rate. 

Here is a table showing the global Asian Flu excess mortality rate:

Here is a graphic showing the excess mortality rate for each of the nations in the study by year:

When all nations are taken into consideration, the global pandemic-associated excess respiratory mortality rate was 1.9 per 10,000 population on average during the period from 1957 to 1959, roughly ten times the global mortality rate of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

Let's look back at the CDC's number of deaths in the United States.  According to the CDC, 116,000 Americans died as a result of the Asian Flu.  In 1956, according to the Census Bureau, the population of the United States was 168,091,000, up from 165,271,000 in 1955.  Assuming a similar rate of growth, the population of the United States would have been approximately 170,900,000 in 1957.  Again, according to the Census Bureau's United States Population Clock, the current population of the United States is 329,614,000 or 92.9 percent higher than in 1957.  When correcting for the increase in population over the six decades, the projected number of deaths in 2020 would have been nearly 224,000 or nearly three times the current number of COVID-19-related deaths.

There are three key differences between the current pandemic and the 1957 "Asian Flu" pandemic:

1.) there was no society-wide lockdown in the United States during the Asian Flu pandemic.  Life continued more-or-less as normal; workplaces and schools remained open, travel took place, sporting and theatre events continued and there was no massive government interference in the daily lives of Americans.  In the United Kingdom, factories, offices and mines were closed and roughly 100,000 children in London were off school because they were suspected as having influenza.  U.K. hospitals were closed when doctors and nurses became ill.

2.) there was no 24 hour a day, 7 day a week news coverage on television to bombard people with the latest death and infection statistics, ramping up the fear level of the populace.  Obviously, there was also no internet to disseminate medical information and misinformation along with an unhealthy dose of fear.  I would also add that  Professor Neil Ferguson was not creating his highly controversial statistical models that were used by governments around the world to justify the imposition of medical martial law on their citizens because of the fear of overrun medical systems.

3.) Americans were not as prone to be obese in the 1950s as they are today.  Here is a chart showing how obesity rates in the United States have changed since 1960:

As you can see, obesity rates among men has risen from 10 percent in 1960 to nearly 40 percent in 2014 and obesity rates among women has risen from 15 percent in 1960 to just over 40 percent in 2014.  As well, the rates of extreme obesity has risen for both sexes.

Even children are becoming increasingly obese as shown on this chart:

4.) Political polarization was not as "polar" during the 1950s as it is today, a factor that has led to the politicization of science.  The Democrats are doing what they can to perpetuate the narrative that the pandemic and resulting economic shutdown are all Donald Trump's fault and the Republicans are taking the opposite approach.  This has held down to the voter level with most right-leaning voters believing that Donald Trump has done a good job of managing the pandemic while left-leaning voters blame Donald Trump for tens of thousands of deaths.

The Asian Flu virus persisted for many years after making its first appearance in 1957 and eventually mutated to become the H3N2 virus which first appeared in the United States in September 1968.  It also contained a new H3 hemagglutinin but contained the N2 neuraminidase from the 1957 H2N2 virus.  The 1968 pandemic resulted in 1 million deaths globally and about 100,000 deaths in the United States.  

With all of this information in mind, we have to ask this final question; in the 1950s and 1960s, were governments (and their citizens) smarter than they are now or is it just that politicians are playing us against each other, seeking to divide and conquer based on a "plandemic"?  Perhaps there is an underlying decline in governments' regard for civil rights and freedom that is to blame.  While we may think that we are more sophisticated and knowledgeable than people were in the 1950s and 1960s, maybe we are just deluding ourselves.


  1. Is there any way you could remove the stupid previous comment?

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful insight.

  3. I was in my mid - teens during the outbreak of 1957-8 in UK. My father worked in a coal mine in Kent. I do not recall that he was laid off work, nor that the mine "closed" - you cannot close a below sea level mine, or it never opens again. Neither was I off school at all. In fact, I dont even remember any Influenza outbreak, although I do remember a bad one in 1950 when I was much younger. I suspect your figures for UK are wrong.