Revisiting the 1957 and 1968 influenza pandemics

The virus emerged in China in the winter of 1957 and spread rapidly worldwide via ships, aeroplanes, and trains. In April, it sparked a major epidemic in Hong Kong, where about 250 000 people were infected, and by June India had seen over a million cases. Shortly afterwards, it made landfall in the UK, and by September outbreaks were being reported in England, Wales, and Scotland. General practitioners were “amazed at the extraordinary infectivity of the disease” and the suddenness with which it attacked younger age groups. Yet, while some members of the College of General Practitioners called for the UK Government to issue a warning about the dangers presented by the virus and coordinate a national response, the ministry of health demurred. Instead, the virus was permitted to run its course.