Monday, September 21, 2009

The Avian Flu of 1957: Ghost of What's to Come

Throughout our course, we have repeatedly referenced the flu epidemic of 1918-1919 as a lesson for the upcoming swine flu pandemic. We never fully examined the similarities between H1N1 and the Avian Flu of 1957. After reading an article about it in The Washington Post, I am convinced that the epidemic of 1957 provides valuable lessons for the trajectory of swine flu and how to handle it.

The Avian Flu (H2N2) broke out during the normally flu-free summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and attacked many group-living situations such as summer camps and military bases. The current strain infected over 80 summer camps during the summer. Like H1N1, the 1957 virus had an overwhelming effect on younger people as compared to the elderly population that flu normally effects. Additionally, the 1957 Avian Flu was briefly harsh but rarely fatal, as H1N1 has thus far. As the article details, these similarities suggest that the pandemic of 1957 may be an instructive model for what is to come with H1N1.

Overall, the 1957 pandemic created 60,000 “excess deaths” in the U.S, which would be the equivalent of 107,000 people today. This is a substantial amount, and with such large similarities between the two epidemics, the Avian Flu of 1957 should be studied in order to prepare for the major outbreak of H1N1.

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