The Flu Epidemics
"The Asian flu of 1957" by Kara Rogers
Asian flu of 1957, also called Asian flu pandemic of 1957, outbreak of influenza that was first identified in February 1957 in East Asia and that subsequently spread to countries worldwide. The 1957 Asian flu was the second major influenza pandemic to occur in the 20th century; it followed the influenza pandemic of 1918–19 (also known as Spanish flu) and preceded the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968. The Asian flu outbreak caused an estimated one million to two million deaths worldwide and is generally considered to have been the least severe of the three influenza pandemics of the 20th century.
The 1957 outbreak was caused by a virus known as influenza A subtype H2N2, or Asian flu virus. Research has indicated that this virus was a reassortant (mixed species) strain, originating from strains of avian influenza and human influenza viruses. In the 1960s the human H2N2 strain underwent a series of minor genetic modifications, a process known as antigenic drift. These slight modifications produced periodic epidemics. After 10 years of evolution, the Asian flu virus disappeared, having been replaced through antigenic shift by a new influenza A subtype, H3N2, which gave rise to the Hong Kong flu pandemic.
In the first months of the 1957 Asian flu pandemic, the virus spread throughout China and surrounding regions. By midsummer it had reached the United States, where it appears to have initially infected relatively few people. Several months later, however, numerous cases of infection were reported, especially in young children, the elderly, and pregnant women. This upsurge in cases was the result of a second pandemic wave of illness that struck the Northern Hemisphere in November 1957. At that time the pandemic was also already widespread in the United Kingdom. By December a total of some 3,550 deaths had been reported in England and Wales. The second wave was particularly devastating, and by March 1958 an estimated 69,800 deaths had occurred in the United States.
Similar to the 1968 Hong Kong flu, the Asian flu was associated with variation in susceptibility and course of illness. Whereas some infected individuals experienced only minor symptoms, such as cough and mild fever, others experienced life-threatening complications such as pneumonia. Those persons who were unaffected by the virus were believed to have possessed protective antibodies to other, closely related strains of influenza. The rapid development of a vaccine against the H2N2 virus and the availability of antibiotics to treat secondary infections limited the spread and mortality of the pandemic.
David Waterhouse - March 17 at 11:39 PM: There is chat on social media about past pandemics. I wonder how many remember the flu outbreak that hit WHS around 59/60? The sick bay was overwhelmed and Hall's House, I think, was evacuated and turned into a mini-hospital. Morale among us randy adolescents was much improved by the drafting in of a pretty young nurse to help run the wards: she was up for a little banter and, in hindsight, probably wasn't that much older than we were. I wonder what happened to her – I guess she'd be about 80 now.
Harvey Angel: I remember the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968. I was fortunate to be one of the first to get it, so I managed to secure a spot in sick bay. Many of those who caught it later on were stuck in bed in their Houses. Once recovered, I found there were very few pupils attending the classes. No prep, as I recall, during this period. Good whilst it lasted!
Michael John O'Leary: In the late 50's, I was tested at the school for Asian Flu and the result was positive although I had no symptoms. About 10 of us were then segregated from the rest of the school for 2 weeks and kept in sick-bay. We were only allowed to go for walks when everyone else was in lessons. I seem to remember sometime later being sent home by train to Liverpool Street Station because of it!??
Jon Kemp: We had one in the late 70's, our class was down from thirty to about 6. There was also a Scarletina outbreak in the mid 70's.
Peter Warne: All I can remember is the foot and mouth outbreak in 67. It affected some of us worse than others.
David Waterhouse: I remember that very well – I'd left school and was an army corporal with a section of men burying or burning carcases and scrubbing and disinfecting farms around Cheshire. At the peak we were six weeks behind, burying pretty ripe carcases: long-dead cows just smell, but sheep are mechanically unsound and bits come off in your hands.
Chris Jenkins: I remember that I don't think I caught it but was moved from Corners to Johnsons. Or am I losing the plot?
Barry Clark: Hi David Waterhouse: I certainly remember the 'Asian Flu' of 1959/60 Unlike Michael John O'Leary I got it later. By that time Johnston's had been converted into Sick Bay. I was in the dining room with, I guess, 60 other beds. I had the misfortune to still be very small and was wrapped in sheet to be used as rugby ball by some of the older boys, who were obviously feeling better and missing sport (thanks Doug Gardner - I think - apologies if I am wrong but I couldn't see?). I was unceremoniously dropped to the floor (or knocked on?) when Richardson came to investigate, and duly boll*cked for being out of bed then cuffed back in. Moral: get ill early, while there are beds, before the NHS is overrun, probably applies now. Still my cohort will be self isolating I guess. Be safe and well all of you.
Chris Snuggs: I remember three periods of being confined to bed. The first must have been in 59/60 when I was one of four in Berners to get some kind of flu and be put in the little room right above the entrance to the main house. I cannot remember who the others were. I don't remember feeling very ill or what we did, though I suppose we must have read a lot ....
I also remember being embedded in Halls - perhaps we were moved there from Berners when the epidemic spread, so that stay in Halls must also have been part of the 58/59 epidemic. We had to stay in bed and be examined every day by a nurse who always wanted to know if our bowels had opened ...... which we also found quite funny at the time ....
Later I was in sick-bay for a while (possibly not related to an epidemic, but I just don't remember) with a Jewish boy called Stone (Philip or Jon?) and a senior boy called Chris "Viv" Seeney, who was a bit menacing .... That must have been in October 1962 as I distinctly remember hearing the news about the Cuban missile crisis while we were there. The other stupid thing I remember is when Stone once fell over and Seeney said: "OMG, there's a heavy Jew on the ground." - which I thought was quite funny .....
The funny thing is that on none of these occasions do I remember feeling particularly ill.
One thing I would say as a teacher since I left university in 1971 is that one's worst nightmare is a child in your care being seriously hurt, ill or God-forbid dying, so it is not surprising that the school took these flu epidemics seriously. However, as far as I remember, nobody died ......