The coronavirus alarms us. Unstoppable, every day reaches a new country. We learned every news live, immediately. Social networks and technology allow us. How would it have been 60 years ago? We know, because in 1957, an epidemic appeared in China. The other Asian flu, which generated more than one million deaths.
A new influenza
The Korean War was recent. And then a new influenza A (H2N2) virus from Asia emerged. The epidemic was first reported in Yunán province, in southeast China. It was a product of the mutation of a common virus in wild ducks that was crossed with a strain that affects humans. It happened in February 1957. It reached Hong Kong in April, and quickly expanded to Singapore, Taiwan and Japan in a matter of two months. The coastal cities of the United States suffered their consequences in summer. From Asia it spread to India and Australia. In Spain it entered through the north of the country, infecting a third of its inhabitants.
Santiago Grisolía explains it in his book «Avian influenza: a public health challenge». The pandemic especially affected children, school children, teenagers and young adults. It coincided with the effect of grouping the school stage after that first summer. One of the most pronounced peaks of the epidemic was recorded in October 1957. Between January and February 1958, there was a second pandemic wave that had a major impact on adults.
More than a million
It is considered that the process for the regrouping of genes probably had biological support for pigs. The appearance of a new virus subtype was very easy to spread. This was due to the fact that the majority of the population had no immunity against the variant.
The estimated number of deaths was around one million one hundred thousand people worldwide. 116,000 of them in the United States. The medical advances made it possible to identify the pandemic more quickly and prevent it from reaching the lethality of the famous 1918 flu. On that occasion it affected 40% of the world's population. Antibiotics, such as penicillin and streptomycin, contributed to treat bacterial complications and the rapid production of vaccines.
By that time, the flu virus had already been mapped. The World Health Organization (WHO) designed each year a vaccine with antigens of its latest variations. The mutation of the H2N2 avian virus forced the international institution to make a new one in record time. In December 1957, 34 million vaccines were distributed, but many of them were not used.
In global figures, the lethality of the other Asian flu was very low, but its rapid expansion had a negative impact on the economy, and it was along with the 1918 epidemic that recorded the highest number of deaths in the last century. In Spain, about 10,000 people died from the disease and more than four million people became ill.