Was There a Forgotten Pandemic in 1968?

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The year was 1968 and a pandemic not unlike the one the world is currently experiencing swept the globe. A new strain of the influenza virus, believed to have originated in Hong Kong, would go on to kill over 100,000 people in the United States and more than one million people worldwide. 

Similar to the coronavirus, the 1968 virus was a new strain that spread fast and infected some of the most powerful people in the world, including President Lyndon B. Johnson, who said it was the worst he had felt in his life. Famed NASA astronaut Frank Borman was also stricken with the virus as he orbited the moon on Apollo 8. 

But there are also major differences between the two pandemics. During the COVID-19 crisis, people are connected to the internet and their smartphones, getting constant updates from 24 hour news sources. Back then, information did not spread as fast.

“People were not aware it was a pandemic,” said Jim Poling, who contracted the Hong Kong Flu when he was 25 and living in New York City, which was also the epicenter at the time. He wrote a book about it called “Killer Flu.”

Poling said it was the sickest he had ever been in his life, and that he thought he was going to die. 

Today, much of the country is under lockdown, businesses are shuttered and daily life is at a stand still. But during the Hong Kong Flu pandemic, things went on as usual, including the legendary Woodstock Music Festival of 1969.


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