Asian Influenza (H2N2) Pandemic of 1957-59

A massive influenza pandemic which quickly enveloped most of the world within six months.

Globally, this pandemic affected between 10-35% of the world's population and the overall mortality rate was 0.25%.


Henderson, D., Courtney, B., Inglesby, T., Toner, E., Nuzzo, J. (2009). Public Health and Medical Responses to the 1957-58 Influenza Pandemic. Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science. 7(3).


“The 1957-58 pandemic was such a rapidly spreading disease that it became quickly apparent to U.S. health officials that efforts to stop or slow its spread were futile. Thus, no efforts were made to quarantine individuals or groups, and a deliberate decision was made not to cancel or postpone large meetings such as conferences, church gatherings, or athletic events for the purpose of reducing transmission. No attempt was made to limit travel or to otherwise screen travelers. Emphasis was placed on providing medical care to those who were afflicted and on sustaining the continued functioning of community and health services. The febrile, respiratory illness brought large numbers of patients to clinics, doctors’ offices, and emergency rooms, but a relatively small percentage of those infected required hospitalization.

School absenteeism due to influenza was high, but schools were not closed unless the number of students or teachers fell to sufficiently low numbers to warrant closure.

However, the course of the outbreak in schools was relatively brief, and many could readily return to activities within 3 to 5 days. A significant number of healthcare workers were said to have been afflicted with influenza, but reports indicate that hospitals were able to adjust appropriately to cope with the patient loads. Based on our New York Times review, there were no reports that major events were canceled or postponed except for high school and college football games, which were often delayed because of the number of players afflicted.

Available data on industrial absenteeism indicate that the rates were low and that there was no interruption of essential services or production. The overall impact on GDP was negligible and likely within the range of normal economic variation.

Health officers had hopes that significant supplies of vaccine might become available in due time, and special efforts were made to speed the production of vaccine, but the quantities that became available were too late to affect the impact of the epidemic. The national spread of the disease was so rapid that within 3 months it had swept throughout the country and had largely disappeared. It was reported that with the end of the fall epidemic, demands for vaccine declined sharply. Whether a renewed effort was made to encourage vaccination before the spring of 1958 is not known, but many believe it was not.

During the 1957 pandemic, 25% of the U.S. population became ill with influenza, and excess mortality due to pneumonia and influenza occurred. From one watching the pandemic from very close range, though, it was a transiently disturbing event for the population, albeit stressful for schools and health clinics and disruptive to school football schedules.”


Viboud, C., Simonsen, L., Fuentes, R., Flores, J., Miller, M., Chowell, G. (2016). Global Mortality Impact of the 1957–1959 Influenza Pandemic. 1957-1959 influenza pandemic, when the world population was 2.87 billion, was estimated to cause 4 deaths per 10,000 population totaling 1.1 million excess deaths due to respiratory disease, with the greatest excess mortality in school-aged children and young adults. If COVID-19 is of similar severity, given the world population of 7.8 billion, 3 million excess deaths could be expected, mostly in the elderly.