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Influenza (1968-1969 – Hong Kong Flu)

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Please add profiles for those who died as a result of Influenza between 1968-1969.


Tags: flu, Hong Kong flu, influenza


1968: Hong Kong Influenza (H3N2)

As in 1957, a new influenza pandemic arose in Southeast Asia and acquired the sobriquet Hong Kong influenza on the basis of the site of its emergence to western attention. Once again, the daily press sounded the alarm with a brief report of a large Hong Kong epidemic in the Times of London. A decade after the 1957 pandemic, epidemiologic communication with mainland China was even less efficient than it had been earlier.

As this epidemic progressed, initially throughout Asia, important differences in the pattern of illness and death were noted. In Japan, epidemics were small, scattered, and desultory until the end of 1968. Most striking was the high illness and death rates in the United States following introduction of the virus on the West Coast. This experience stood in contrast with the experience in western Europe, including the United Kingdom, in which increased illness occurred in the absence of increased death rates in 1968–1969 and increased death rates were not seen until the following year of the pandemic.

1968 – 1969

In early 1968, a new flu virus was detected in Hong Kong. The first cases in the United States were detected as early as September 1968. Illness was not widespread in the United States until December 1968. Deaths from this virus peaked in December 1968 and January 1969. Those over the age of 65 were most likely to die. The number of deaths between September 1968 and March 1969 was 33,800, making it the mildest flu pandemic in the 20th century. The same virus returned in 1970 and 1972. There could be several reasons fewer people in the United States died due to this virus:

  • The Hong Kong flu virus was similar in some ways to the 1957 pandemic flu virus. This might have provided some immunity against the Hong Kong flu virus.
  • The Hong Kong flu virus hit in December of 1968, when school children were on vacation. This caused a decline in flu cases because children were not at school to infect one another. This also prevented it from spreading into their homes.

Improved medical care and antibiotics that are more effective for secondary bacterial infections were available for those who became ill.

In 1968 a new Influenza A strain emerged from Asia. The virus (H3N2) reached the United States in September 1968, peaking in the winter months. Due to delays in developing a vaccine, very few US citizens were protected against illness. About 34,000 people died in the United States during this pandemic.

Additional Reading:

Influenza Pandemics: A Look Back]


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