How many pandemic flu have you seen in your life time?


Bird Flu! Swine Flu!.. Is it a H5N1, H1N1 or HXNX virus? What is the fascination of scientists with H and N anyway? My elementary chemistry would say that H is hydrogen and N is nitrogen. Actually, molecular biology defines them in terms of the associated surface proteins: H for hemagluttinin and N for neuraminidase. There are 16 different H types and 9 different N types of proteins. These numbers differentiate the strains and do not indicate greater severity.


If you are old enough then you must have seen three major pandemic flu outbreaks in the 20th century. Flu pandemics occur whenever a new strain of the virus arises to which most people have no natural immunity. Following were the three major outbreaks:


Spanish flu pandemic, 1918

  • It was the deadliest outbreak of all time and was caused by H1N1 strain
  • It was different from the one currently affecting Mexico, U.S. and other countries
  • It majorly affected healthy young adults
  • Killed about 40 to 50 million people worldwide  

Asian flu pandemic, 1957

  • It was first identified in China and sparked by an H2N2 strain

  • style="font-size: 10pt; line-height: 150%; font-family: "Arial","sans-serif"; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New Roman';">It initially affected children and then to elder population
  • It caused about 2 million deaths globally  

Hong Kong flu, 1968

  • It was the mildest of the three pandemics this century and caused by H3N2 flu strain
  • It was first spotted in Hong Kong and then spread globally over the next two years
  • The people most susceptible to the virus were the elderly
  • About 1 million people were killed by this pandemic 

Two of the three pandemic influenza A virus strains during the past century, H2N2 in 1957 (which caused Asian flu) and H3N2 in 1968 (which caused Hong Kong flu), arose from genetic reassortment, in which gene segments from an avian virus were mixed with genetic material from a co-infecting human virus, probably through an intermediate host, such as a pig.

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