On Monday, a reporter from New York Magazine asked President Trump whether he deserved to be reelected, since more Americans had died from the coronavirus than died in the war in Vietnam. She may have been unaware that at the height of the Vietnam war, there was something that killed more Americans than the war did, and it was a similar virus — and no one questioned whether a president should be elected or not because of the virus, known as the Hong Kong Flu.
In 1968-69, the Hong Kong flu ravaged the world; it wound up killing more than one million people worldwide, over 100,000 of them in the United States. No lockdowns were imposed and people still went to work, albeit lessening bus travel and implementing social distancing and more washing of their hands.
The Wall Street Journal explained. “The novel virus triggered a state of emergency in New York City; caused so many deaths in Berlin that corpses were stored in subway tunnels; overwhelmed London’s hospitals; and in some areas of France left half of the workforce bedridden.”
As John Fund notes in National Review, the Hong Kong Flu “was an especially infectious virus that had the ability to mutate and render existing vaccines ineffective … Hundreds of thousands were hospitalized in the U.S. as the disease hit all 50 states by Christmas 1968. Like COVID-19, it was fatal primarily to people older than 65 with preexisting conditions.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica pointed out the highly contagious nature of the disease: “Indeed, within two weeks of its emergence in July in Hong Kong, some 500,000 cases of illness had been reported … The 1968 flu pandemic caused illness of varying degrees of severity in different populations. For example, whereas illness was diffuse and affected only small numbers of people in Japan, it was widespread and deadly in the United States.”
The Hong Kong flu still exists today. The Centers for Disease Control note, “It was first noted in the United States in September 1968 … The H3N2 virus continues to circulate worldwide as a seasonal influenza A virus.”
Fund notes that a retired professor of medicine, Philip Snashall, noted in the British Medical Journal that his two-year-old daughter was the first known case of the Hong Kong flu in Europe. He wrote, “How things change. The stock market did not plummet, we were not besieged by the press, men in breathing apparatus did not invade my daughter’s play group.”
Fund concludes, “In 1975, as Ronald Reagan left the governor’s office in California and was looking back on his time managing the state, he spoke to a student audience about nuclear power. ‘I note that an overly excited group of Californians has formed something called People for Proof,’ to crusade for a risk-free future, he said. He warned that ‘this kind of group is as contagious as the Hong Kong flu.’ Like the flu, such groups will now always be with us, I fear.”
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