Asian Flu

From the United States Center For Disease Control (CDC) web site:

1957-1958 Pandemic (H2N2 virus)

In February 1957, a new influenza A (H2N2) virus emerged in East Asia, triggering a pandemic (“Asian Flu”). This H2N2 virus was comprised of three different genes from an H2N2 virus that originated from an avian influenza A virus, including the H2 hemagglutinin and the N2 neuraminidase genes. It was first reported in Singapore in February 1957, Hong Kong in April 1957, and in coastal cities in the United States in summer 1957. The estimated number of deaths was 1.1 million worldwide and 116,000 in the United States.

In the fall of 1957 I and all of my sixth grade class loaded onto several yellow buses and headed up to the mountains for a full week of egg salad sandwiches, Beanie-Weenie, and government surplus powdered eggs. The San Diego school system at that time ran two sixth grade camps: one in the mountains of Cuyamacha and the other high up Mount Palomar (an old CCC Camp).

We made manzanita letter openers, polished smooth with fine grit sandpaper, went on long hikes identifying rocks and trees and shrubs, sang what we later learned were ancient drinking songs around crackling camp fires, ate (or refused as in my case) some obscene crap called S’Mores, showered naked with another naked boy for an early exposure to water conservation and foreign naughty bits, and slept ten to a cabin without a nightlight.

Hey, we were in sixth grade!


Then Wednesday came and one of the buses took several sniffling campers back home. The next day it was announced we were all going home early, better to avoid crowds and deal with health issues at a family level.

This may have been the first time I heard of influenza, or the flu as it was generally called. My memory of the 1950s is understandably sketchy but I don’t think I came down with the flu myself but I do believe the school was closed the following week.

Now I’m in my mid-Seventies with diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, afib, and really gnarly toenails. Do I have a chance of survival? Should I read Robert Burton while there’s still time? My advantages are: I am retired and don’t need to go to work (although the WH manipulation of the stock market through well-timed announcements may make me a pauper before this pandemic subsides), my Daughter is keeping me isolated and scrubbing anything that may hide those nasty viruses, I have lots of food, toilet paper, hand soap, and 19th Century French literature to keep me occupied and safe for many weeks.

As someone else suggested: maybe it’s time to reread Finnegans Wake.


Note: Boys showered with other boys and girls showered with other girls and the camp nurse was NOT called Hot Lips. The process as I remember it was one boy stood under the water while the other boy practiced his multiplication tables; then the wet boy fell back to let the math whiz get wet and the first boy soaped up his little body; another switch and while the second boy lathered, the first boy rinsed; finally the second boy rinsed and both tried to towel dry before sneaking back to their bunk beds to done the uniform of the day (shorts and a T-shirt).

One thought on “Asian Flu

  1. You survived the flu, you’ll survive this, Mike. If you have got through all those years and illnesses, you will be fine with your daughters help. The government here is talking about asking over seventies to stay home for 4 months. I think they forget we are children of the 60s and not big on trusting so calked authorities and “experts”. It’ll be interesting to see if they have the nerve. How do they think elderly widowsanc widowed are going to manage without access to shops. Yes I know supermarkets deliver, but how long before van drivers get it and thd service is suspended. As for reading Burton, you know you want to. I just love big books.


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