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[From the Archive]

The Problem of Influenza

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Influenza does not rate with the public as a terrifying disease. One might start a panic any time by shouting “smallpox!” or “yellow fever!” in a crowd, but can you picture any considerable number of people running from “the flu”? The term has a frivolous, almost comical connotation, quite in contrast with the fearsome images invoked by such portentous words as “Asiatic cholera,” “typhus,” and “plague.” It would be mere posturing to belittle the history of these scourges, but one may fairly question whether in the long roll of the centuries any of them outranks epidemic influenza as a killer. From the first recorded outbreak, the Greek pestilence of 412 b.c. mentioned by Hippocrates and Livy, which many students of medical history identify with this disease, through to the world pandemic of 1918, influenza has sporadically flared up with explosive suddenness, prostrating unusually large numbers of the population, destroying many victims directly, and laying others open to additional infections which complete what influenza began.

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