In 1968, the world was introduced to the 3rd influenza pandemic of the 20th century, the influenza A (H3N2) virus, also known as the “Hong Kong flu.” The virus is reported to have evolved from the strain of the H2N2 virus which caused the 1957 pandemic.
The H3N2 virus emerged from the subtype of the H2N2 virus through a process known as an antigenic shift. An antigenic shift is a “genetic altercation occurring in an infectious agent that causes a dramatic change in a protein called an antigen.” This shift creates the increase of antibodies produced by the immune system in humans and animals. Genes in the virus underwent a mutation, producing a new antigen (toxin or other foreign substance which induces an immune response).
This strain of the flu was first seen in Hong Kong in July of 1968. The virus was highly contagious, and infections grew at a fast pace. People infected with the virus would experience symptoms such as chills, fever, aches, and weakness. Within weeks, there were approximately 500,000 cases reported. The virus spread throughout Southeast Asia, making its way to the Panama Canal and United States via soldiers returning from Vietnam.
The virus would continue to spread to other parts of the world as well. Cases were reported in the United Kingdom and other countries in western Europe. People living in the Americas, Australia, Japan, and countries in Africa were affected as well.
While many lives were lost due to this virus, thankfully there were not as many deaths as there were in previous flu pandemics. One reason is the similarities the Hong Kong Flu had to the Asian flu. Some believe that people infected with the Asian flu virus may have provided immunity against the new virus, reducing the severity. Another reason is the H3N2 virus occurred in December, during which schools are out for winter break. This decreased the activity of the virus spreading from schools to homes. With the help of advanced medical care and antibiotics, more treatment was available to those who became infected with the H3N2 virus.
By: Ashley Pure