1957 Influenza Pandemic
Testing New Surveillance and Preparedness Measures
The 1950s and 1960s saw several scientific advances in the field of virology. Tissue culture technologies led to the discovery of numerous viruses. These same technologies also enabled virologists to grow and study many viruses in ways that were unthinkable in the past.
In spring 1957, amidst all this scientific progress, newspapers reported that a severe influenza epidemic had erupted in East Asia. Stories about thousands awaiting treatment and women carrying “glassy-eyed children tied to their backs” to local clinics in Hong Kong spread throughout the world.
Reading the news reports and believing that another pandemic was looming, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, a physician at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., alerted his colleagues at military bases in Asia. He asked them to collect and send respiratory samples to the U.S. Scientists from Melbourne and London began studying the virus as well. When they discovered the virus was different from previously circulating influenza A viruses and people would have little immunity against it, concern rose throughout U.S. public health agencies.
The first influenza pandemic in the golden age of virology had begun.