8. Asian Flu

Patients being treated for Asian Flu in SwedenPatients being treated for “Asian Flu” in Sweden in 1957. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

In 1956, the “Asian Flu,” a pandemic outbreak of influenzavirus A that originated in China, spread through East Asia and into the United States, killing between one and two million people. By late September 1957, the New York Health Department confirmed 350 cases of the flu in New York, and by early October, the Health Department reported that nearly 11,000 people complained of flu-liked symptoms. By 1958, the pandemic was responsible for 60,000 “excess deaths” in the U.S., or deaths that exceed what would normally be expected.
The first Asian Flu vaccine administered in New York took place on August 16, 1957, by Dr. Joseph Ballinger at Montefiore Hospital, and the vaccine was judged to be 45 to 60% effective. The flu took the lives of thousands of New Yorkers, but 5.4 million doses of the vaccine were released nationwide by mid-September.