Pandemic Scares Throughout History
Before there was swine flu...
The H1N1 flu virus is estimated to have killed more than 4,000 in the United States and many more worldwide in the 2009-2010 flu season, causing the first global flu pandemic in over 40 years.
Vaccines are now available that give combined protection against H1N1 and the seasonal flu.
Overall, this outbreak was relatively minor compared to past pandemics. In this slideshow, we revisit the century's worst flu pandemics—and false alarms.
« During a 1939 flu scare, a baby wears a polite message to keep sick people away.
Spanish flu (1918)
Helped along by the movement of troops during World War I, the virus infected 20% to 40% of the world’s population and killed an estimated 50 million, including up to 675,000 in the United States alone. (The virus earned its name from a rash of deaths in Spain, but its actual origin remains unclear.) In the end, more than three times as many people died from the flu as died in the war.
« Seattle policemen wear protective face masks during the 1918 pandemic.
Asian flu (1957)
« A health officer at the University of Illinois surveys a hockey rink filled with hundreds of cots awaiting Asian flu cases.
Hong Kong flu (1968)
Fewer than 40,000 Americans died of Hong Kong flu. The casualties could have been far worse, but health officials were more prepared this time around. Some experts believe that the 1957 Asian flu may also have provided some immunity to the population.
« In a 1968 photograph, singer Vera Palm wears a "climate mask" to protect her voice from the flu.
Swine flu (1976)
« President Gerald Ford is immunized during the 1976 swine-flu scare.
Avian flu (1997)
Fortunately these fears weren't realized. A pandemic was never declared, and health officials determined that the flu does not spread easily from person to personand it definitely can't be spread by eating fully cooked chicken or turkey. No cases in humans have been reported in the United States.
« Government scientists tested birds for avian flu in California in 2006.
H1N1 flu (2009)
Fortunately, H1N1 flu has not left the trail of destruction that experts feared.
« A young woman distributes hand-sanitizing wipes in New York City's Times Square in May 2009.