There is much fun contrasting earlier approaches to pandemics and our Great Global Panic, now entering it’s third—and final?—year.
Let’s take the 1957-1958 Asian (the novel H2N2) flu, the worst of the last century after the Spanish flu. I pick this instead of the Spanish flu because the medical and social circumstances after WWI were very different by mid century.
Reports started in China—stop me if you’ve heard this one before—and quickly became global. The world population then was about 2.9 billion, and is now 7.9 billion. The USA was 177.8 million and is now 329.5 million.
Certainty in numbers between the pandemics vary, mainly because of the current obsession of counting each and every infection and death, and the now global ability to count. Getting good counts from, say, Brazil in 1957 was impossible.
Some estimates say there were 1.1 million “excess” global deaths in 1957, put down to the flu. But that’s a model, not a count, and it’s not clear how many of the non-excess deaths were flu, or something else. Others say around 2 million died globally. Still more say up to 4 million.
That makes a global death rate of 0.04% to 0.1% for Asian flu—over about a 14 month period. The H2N2 flu never went away, of course; it and its mutations still prowl the world. So it’s difficult to compare directly with covid, which has reigned over a two-year period. Nevertheless, current estimates are 5.59 million dead, making a global rate of 0.07%. That’s right in the middle of the Asian flu estimates.
There was no panic in 1957-1958. There is, and has been, great panic now.
The Asian flu killed a lot of the young, those 15 years old or so and younger, at higher rates then the aged (Figs. 7, 8, 13 here); while covid kills mostly those over 75. In this sense, the Asian flu was worse.
Again, now we hear about deaths daily, if not hourly. Deaths in the USA were only an estimate then: they are now, too, but we’re much cockier about uncertainty. The CDC guesses about 116 thousand Asian flu deaths, out of an estimated 45 million infections.
The Asian flu numbers make for a 38.2% infection rate over 1957-1959, about a 14 month period. This rate only grew after the close of the official pandemic. The overall death rate for this period was 0.1% of the population—but this number, too, grew later. The infection fatality rate was 0.26%. This is, of course, averaged over all ages.
The infection rate of covid, over a longer period of time, January 2020 to now, is 67% to 92%. Yet we care much more deeply about measuring these days, so the comparison with earlier numbers is much harder. The covid panic caused testing to soar to idiot levels. Plus, the CDC estimates 15% of those infected with covid never knew it. Almost certainly, then, Asian flu infections are underestimated.
The population covid fatality rate, over a longer two years, is about 0.26% (866 thousand/329.5 million). The infection fatality rate grows close to that because so many have already been infection.
So covid is, in one sense, about twice as bad as H2N2, but given half the deaths were in the young half with Asians flu, and covid numbers are likely overestimated compared to H2N2, the two diseases are comparable. Covid, like H2N2, will also continue on.
There are thus few differences between the pandemic numbers. Except for levels of panic. Then, none: Now, insanity.
Why did we panic then and not now?
Many recall the Diamond Princess cruise ship story from December 2019, a floating covid laboratory as some came to call it. There were 3,711 people on the ship, 712 confirmed infections, and from 7 to 14 died from the Alpha (worst?) variant of covid. Even then, pegging cause of death was difficult.
But with those numbers, and given the people were locked down on the ship, with no masks or vaccinations, we arrive at initial estimates of 19% infection rate, 0.2% – 0.4% overall fatality rate, and 1% to 2% infection fatality rate. Passengers were also older than average, and we came to learn later covid is a disease of the elderly.
These were not fun numbers, as disease numbers never are, but they were far from panic-worthy. But panic we did.
What’s interesting, is that the CDC in 1957 blamed the spread of the H2N2 virus on foreigners and cruise ships (other pandemics, too): “On August 12 , the AROSA SKY docked in New York with at least 50 active cases of influenza among some 400 foreign exchange students who had traveled tourist class.”
There was lots of obviously silly news emerging from China in early 2020, which was too willingly accepted—but not by all of us. Some of us smelled a rancid odor from the beginning. Others took a bit longer (good stories here) It was clear to some that the Chinese street health theater showing parades of men in spacesuits spraying mysterious substances into the air was asinine at best and bullshit at worst.
We tell the whole story of how the panic emerged in The Price of Panic. The book is a tad out of date now, since our last updates to the text were early summer 2020. But the material on the relative technological ease of spreading gibberish, globalization and the rise and excessive trust in Experts, the growing tyranny of governments, the wail of people shouting “Save me!”, the effeminate beliefs of people thinking government “solutions” could be effected, when no power on earth was able to stop a respiratory virus from spreading before, all that is in there.
Before 2020, and even early into it, it was generally acknowledged, after a century of studying the problem, masks did nothing. They weren’t used or insisted on in 1957. They were made illegal not to wear in many locales in 2020. They did nothing to stop the spread of a bug breathed in, as expected.
I’ve written about masks so often before, I’m sick of it. Our latest panic is N95 salvation masks. LA is now soft torturing its kids by making them wear nose clips over their masks. So it’s well to cite a JAMA paper which concluded (among other things) “Among 2862 randomized participants…There were 207 laboratory-confirmed influenza infection events (8.2% of HCP-seasons) in the N95 respirator group and 193 (7.2% of HCP-seasons) in the medical mask group.” Which is to say, no real difference. And we could cite many more that showed no masks at all were similar. Even by surgeons not wearing surgical masks.
Vaccines then as now were deemed important. There was no way to get them injected worldwide in 1957, and no methods for vaccine “passports” or enforcing vaccine mandates—all based now on the preposterous fallacy that if you are fired for not having a vaccine, you cannot catch the disease or spread it while unemployed. Of course, mandates are solely to punish those who will not obey their betters.
In 1957, there was a better understanding of the limitations of vaccines, hence the lack of panic. The healthy appreciation of uncertainty gradually eroded to our Expert-level certainty. One amusing confession comes in the journal Emerging Infection Diseases, in what was called the “abortive” potential swine flu almost-pandemic of 1976.
An even higher yielding HA mutant virus, X-53a, was selected from X-53 and subsequently used in the mass vaccination of 43,000,000 people…When no cases were found outside Fort Dix in subsequent months and the neurologic complication of Guillain-Barre syndrome occurred in association with administration of swine influenza vaccine, the National Immunization Program was abandoned, and the entire effort was assailed as a fiasco and disaster.
Perhaps we’ll come to the same conclusion for covid vaccines.
Even then propagandists propagandized. Only they’re much better at it now. Still, solid efforts were made in 1958. This is from a 1957 issue of the British Medicine Journal, then as now influential:
Panic then, panic now. Only now we are real good at it.
Later we’ll discuss how government “solutions”, unavailable in 1957, only made things worse.
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