Thanks to a scientist and vaccine, America has survived a virus that has killed millions

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Source: Arabic.Net – Taha Abdel Nasser Ramadan

During the year 1957, the world became silent due to the second class H2N2 influenza virus, as many scientists believe in its emergence due to a mutation in the virus that infects wild ducks and integrates with a virus that affects humans, as part of a virus reshaping process. The first case of this virus was recorded in the beginning of 1957 in southwestern Guizhou Province, before it spread rapidly to reach Singapore by February and Hong Kong in April of the same year, causing the emergence of what is known as the Asian flu.

Map of a number of East Asia regions where the virus has spread
Map of a number of East Asia regions where the virus has spread

Seeing the news of the horrors of the spread of the disease in Hong Kong in the New York Times on April 17, 1957, American microbiologist Maurice Hilleman realized that an influenza pandemic was on its way to the United States of America. The next day, this American scientist contacted a number of officials at one of his country’s military laboratories in Zama, Japan, and asked them to gather information about the reality of what is happening in Hong Kong, coinciding with the emergence of information about the transmission of the virus to about 250 thousand residents of the region.

In the face of this situation, one of the American doctors identified a marine soldier who contracted the disease while he was in Hong Kong. He collected a quantity of his saliva and sent it to Maurice Hellman in the United States to conduct the necessary research on the virus.

Photo of Maurice Hellman
Photo of Maurice Hellman

As director of the Walter Reed Military Research Institute in Washington, Maurice Hellman had access to many serum samples for people of different ages who had lived during the previous decades. During his research, Hellmann noticed slight changes in neuraminidase and hemagglutinin in the new virus compared to known influenza viruses. He talked about a new flu strain and warned of a pandemic that might invade the United States, causing unforeseen consequences within the mid-year of 1957.

And while failing to find people with HIV immunity, the American scientist sent a series of his research to a number of health organizations to finally find a group of people with anti-HIV drugs between the ages of 70 and 80 who survived earlier in the Russian influenza pandemic of 1889.

A picture of a bottle of the 1968 flu vaccine
A picture of a bottle of the 1968 flu vaccine

Announcing the inevitability of the United States to be exposed to the Asian influenza pandemic, Maurice Hellman faced harsh criticism, but in the end he persuaded pharmaceutical companies to start working on vaccine production in a timely manner, and he demanded that farmers not kill the roosters for exploitation during research. Scientists took advantage of the experiments of influenza vaccines that appeared during the 1940s to develop a vaccine against the new virus. Also, Maurice Hellman tended to go beyond the teachings of regulators during research in the hope of speeding up the production of the vaccine before the Asian flu arrived.

A picture of one of the influenza vaccinations
A picture of one of the influenza vaccinations

Just as Maurice Hillman predicted, the new virus disintegrated in the United States of America to record its spread during the month of September 1957. Fortunately for everyone at the time, the vaccine was ready before the outbreak, thus contributing to saving the lives of a large number of Americans.

And while the number of victims in the world ranged between one and four million, the Asian flu caused the death of only about 70,000 people in the United States of America, most of whom were elderly, pregnant women and children.





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