• History of Influenza Outbreaks


    In 1957 , a doctor in Singapore  noticed that hospitals were treating was treating an unusual number of Influenza like cases .

    Influenza is sometimes called 'Flu' or a 'bad cold'  . He took samples from the troat of patients and in his hospital was able to find the virus of this influenza .

    There are three main types of influenza virus , the most important of these are type A and B , each of them having several sub-groups .

    With the instruments at the hospital a doctor recognized that the outbreak was due to the virus in group A , but he did not know the sub-group , then  he reported the outbreak to the World Health Organization in Geneva .

    W.H.O. published the important news alongside report of a similar outbreak in Hong Kong , where about 15-20% of the population had come ill .
    As soon as the London doctors recieved the package of troat samples , doctors began the standard tests .

    They found that by reproducing itself with a very high speed , the virus had grown  more than a million times within two days .

    Continuing their careful test , the virus type A . None of them gave any protection , this , then , was something new , a new influenza virus against which the people of the world had no help whatever .
    Having found the virus they were working with , the two doctors now dropped it into the nose of some specially selected animals , which get influenza much as human being do.
    In a short time the usual thing , the usual signs of the disease appeared .

    These experiments proved that the new virus was easy to catch , but that it was not a killer .
    Scientists , like the general public , call it  simply Asian flu .
    the first discovery of the virus , however , was made in China before the disease had appeared in other countries .

    Various report showed that the influenza outbreak started in China , probably  in February 1957 .
    By the middle of March , it had spread all over China .

    The virus was found by the Chnese doctors early in March  , but China is not a member of the World Health Organization and therefore does not report outbreaks of disease to it .

    Not until two months later when travellers carried the virus into Hong Kong ,  from where it spread to Singapore , did the news of the outbreak reach the rest of the world .

    By this time , it was well started on its way around the world .


    Therefore , W.H.O.'s weekly reports described the steady spread of this great virus outbreak , which within four months swept through every continent .

    Influenza has been with us a long , long time . According to some Greek writers  on medical history  , the outbreak of 412  B.C. was of influenza . The same has been suggested of the sickness that swept through the Greek army attacking Syracuse in 395 B.C.  Flu is a disease that moves most quickly among people living in crowded conditions , hence it likely to attack armies .

    During the nineteenth century , there were 5 widespread outbreak of influenza . The last of the five happened in 1889 and marked the beginning of the story of Influenza in our time . Like the present outbreak , it started in Asia .

    For more than forty years before that outbreak , Influenza had steadily decreased and was believed to be dying out  . A new group of outbreak was introduced by the great outbreak of 1889-1900 and for the next quarter of the century Flu remain the constant threat .

    In April 1918 , Flu broke out among American troops stationed in France . It quickly spread through all the armies but caused relatively few deaths .

    Four months later , however  , a second outbreak started which proved to be a killer . It killed not only the old and already sick but also healthy young adult s .


    It went through every country in the world only a few distant islands in the south Atlantic  and the pacific remaining untouched .
    It brought the life of the whole countries to a stop  , food supplies stopped and the work loss was very great .
    Before the great outbreak ended , it has killed at least 15 million people .
    Medical science is still not certain what hit us in 1918 .
    The Virus of influenza was not found until 1933 , so all that today can be said about the 1918 outbreak is the kind of antibodies it produced .
    The 1918 outbreak was never controlled . It simply burned itself out after taking a great number of human lives .
    Before man could have done much to lessen the effect of such an outbreak , he would have had to find the influenza virus so that vaccine could be developed .
    It would also help to have an international reporting system so that countries threatened with the disease could prepare to defend themselves .

    The first big advance was made in 1933 , when a team of British doctors found the type A influenza virus .
    In 1940 , a doctor of the United States found type B . then later type C was found along with many sub-group of type A and B .
    Vaccines were prepared and used widely by the armies during the second world war to prevent outbreaks .
    The Flu virus proved trickier than most .
    A vaccine good against one type gave no protection against another . Indeed type A virus changes its nature so quickly that a perfectly good vaccine may lose its value because of the changes .
    This increases the need for the speedy recovery of Flu outbreaks , so that stocks of the right vaccine can be prepared quickly after an outbreak .

    Starting such a warning system was one of the first things done by the World Health Organization .
    For centuries , the defense of nations against infectious disease was the keeping  apart of the sick and supposedly sick .

    Quarantine , the name given to the practice , was particularly hard on travelers entering a country from an infected areas  which until recently meant most of the world .

    By holding such person for a fixed period , it was believed that enough time would be given for any undeveloped disease to show itself .

    Although it was started with goodwill , the good name of quarantine was gradually ruined by the bad uses to which it was put . Merchant and traders  , angered by constant delays and losses , finally turned against it .

    By the middle of the nineteenth century , the feeling had become so great that in 1851 , the first international meeting on quarantine matters met in Paris . Twelve countries took part .

    After half a year of talk , an agreement was reached  , dealing with the control of three major infectious diseases , only three of the twelve countries signed the agreement , and two of them insisted of getting out of it .

    Still , it was a start . Ten international meetings in the next half century showed more agreement on the part of nations to talk about health problems , but few written agreement were signed .

    During the same period ,  however , Pasteur , Koch and other microbe-hunters were laying a firm base for new international health rules.

    Once it was known what causes the outbreak , it was much easier to reach an agreement about methods of stopping them .

    the travelers bill of right was made and went into effect in 1952 . the principles behind these rules were a new type of international agreement . It gives the world Health Assembly full power to discuss and adopt any measures it thinks necessary to protect the health of the world .

    This is something entirely new in international agreement and will allow the W.H.O to get information on changing health condition and the development of new  ways of fighting disease .
    By 1958 , some 170 countries and territories had accepted the rules. Although the rules were not as strong as those in force up till then , they did not open the gate to disease .

    With only one exception , there has not been a serious outbreak due to international travel since the rule went into effect .

    Rapid and good reporting of diseases that can spread is an important part of the new agreement .
    At the height of the great outbreak of 1957 , I visited W.H.O  headquarters in Geneva to find out the latest news and development .

    The outbreak is proceeding very much as expected ', said an American doctor whose business is to keep an eye on the infectious diseases of the world . 'with the help of  the excellent work done  and information given to us by al W.H.O. influenza centers throughout the  world , we were able to map its courses  with remarkable correctness  .

    This great  outbreak has given W.H.O. its first opportunity to test the true value of our widespread reporting system and it certainly has proved a success .

    We have every hope that next time we come face to face with a new type of Influenza of great power , we will be able to   give the world a few months warning .

    In this  , as in so many other ways , W.H.O is making our world better .

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