‘Coronavirus and the Asian flu: identical twins separated at birth?’ by Bruce Brown
As pandemics go, the coronavirus most closely resembles the Asian flu of 1957
THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic has most frequently been compared to the 1919 Spanish influenza pandemic — which was the most deadly flu epidemic in history — but the 1957 Asian flu pandemic may actually be a better match.
Both the coronavirus and the Asian flu are novel coronaviruses which apparently crossed over to humans from non-human species. In the case of the Asian flu, the origin was the H2N2 avian flu (possibly from geese), and both pandemics came out of China. The Asian flu first appeared in Guizhou, China, in late 1956, then in Singapore and Hong Kong in the spring of 1957.
In terms of mortality rate, the COVID-19 and Asian flu pandemics are very similar. Like COVID-19, the Asian flu had a human mortality rate of a little more than 1/2 of 1 percent. The New York Times recently recalculated the mortality rate of COVID-19 at .6 percent, while “the case fatality rate of Asian flu was approximately 0.67%,” according to Wikipedia.
The estimated number deaths attributed to the Asian flu and coronavirus are somewhat comparable as well. There were 116,000 Asian flu deaths in the United States, according to the CDC, compared to 138,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. to date.
So the Asian flu killed fewer Americans than COVID-19, but because the population of the Unites States was much smaller in 1957, the Asian flu actually killed a larger percentage of the American population than COVID-19 has so far.
And like COVID-19, the Asian flu hit the elderly hardest and was most deadly for that portion of the population.
HOWEVER, ONE big difference between the Asian flu in 1957 and the coronavirus in 2020 is that — thanks to Maurice Hilleman, chief of respiratory diseases at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C. — the United States was able to develop and distribute an effective vaccine within six months of the first international outbreak of the Asian flu in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of the Hilleman biography, Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases, wrote:
“Not only did he believe that the virus circulating in Hong Kong — now called Asian flu — would spread throughout the world, but also he believed that it would enter the United States in the first week of September 1957.”
Hilleman’s prediction proved right on the mark, and thanks to his creative fast-tracking the production and distribution of 40 million doses of Asian flu vaccine, the pandemic was far less deadly than it might otherwise have been.
According to Offit, this is the only time in history that a scientist has correctly predicted an outbreak of pandemic influenza.
THE OTHER big difference between 1957 and 2020 is that no one gave even a moment’s thought to closing the whole country down for the Asian flu pandemic, even though its mortality rate and death count were similar to the coronavirus pandemic.
There was no heavy-breathing hysteria in America in 1957. People just took the best precautions they could, and got on with it.
So why is America closed down now in 2020, when we already showed in 1957 we can withstand a novel coronavirus pandemic with a mortality rate of .6 percent without a lockdown?
Or stated another way — what makes America so much weaker today than it was in 1957 — so timid and fearful and feminized, and so UNABLE to deliver a novel coronavirus vaccine within 6 months, as it did in 1957?
— Bruce Brown
Editor, Coronavirus Vaccine & Herd Immunity Digest