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THE FLU EPIDEMICS NOW (1957) AND IN 1918

Leinster Leader 21 September 1957

The Flu Epidemics Now and in 1918

The term “influenza epidemic,” conjures up for many people memories of the great flue epidemic of 1918 and 1919, which took 20,000,000 lives around the world. Actually, this reaction to the present wide-world flu wave is quite unjustifiable, doctors say.
The “Far Eastern flu” which was first reported from Hong Kong in April and seems to be spreading wherever human beings live, is only a pale shadow of its devasting predecessor. Although hundreds of thousands throughout Asia have had the disease in the past three months, only a very small proportion of the cases have been fatal.
And although flu typically strikes mainly at young adult, the young have accounted for few of the deaths occurring in the present epidemic. Most fatalities have been found among the normally much more vulnerable groups, the very young and the very old.
But the relative mildness of the flu epidemic of 1957, as compared to that of 1918, does not mean of course that either the present or any of the other numerous variations can be disregarded with impunity. All of them are specific acute infections of the entire system. All bring high fever for at least three or four days, respiratory or gastro intestinal inflammation and head, back and other pains. And such symptoms always call for both attention and care.
Secondary Infection
The danger to the individual from flu however lies not so much in this relatively short-lived discomfort as in exhaustion and weakness it leaves in its wake. For a protracted period convalescence is usual slow the patient is far more vulnerable than ordinarily to other entirely new infections. And then they strike; their effect on the already debilitated victim is often devastating and far worse than the original flu.
This frequent sequel is known as “secondary infection” “secondary” not because it is of minor importance, but it follows a first infection. Many diseases may be controlled under these circumstances, but those serious and one of the most common is bacterial pneumonia which can be a very grave matter at any time especially in this role.
Against flu itself, once the infection is contracted medical science has little specific treatment to offer. This is principally because the disease is caused by a virus, and all but a very few viruses are beyond reach of even the newest drugs. Medical defences against flu proper are thus necessarily limited to helping the patient conserve his ebbing strength by unlimited bed rest and by taking adequate nourishment.
But against secondary infection medicine is now far better armed than it was in 1918-1919. Medical men believe that if those drugs had been available forty years ago many of the, victims of the earlier epidemic would still be alive today.
A New Vaccine
Preventative vaccines have long existed against some kinds of influenza but not all. In particular when the present outbreak began there was no such protection against the three strains of the virus which had been isolated from “Far East flu” suffers.
Now, however, there has been produced a vaccine which does combat these types. Manufacture has begun and is expected to reach major proportions by October or November.
This is a complicated, long drawn out process, which consists essentially of adapting the desired strains of virus to living and growing embryonated chicken egg tissues and then planting and “harvesting” crops of virus. After the virus has developed in quantity, the embryonic fluid is refined, concentrated and the virus is killed by adding formalin. This renders it safe for use in humans but does not impair its influenza-protective qualities.

An article from the Leinster Leader of 21 September 1957 on comparisons to the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918 and another outbreak in 1957


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