Patrick Di Justo
There is evidence there will be a major flu epidemic this coming fall. The indication is that we will see a return of the 1918 flu virus that is the most virulent form of the flu. In 1918 a half million Americans died. The projections are that this virus will kill one million Americans in 1976.
- F. David Matthews, secretary of health, education, and welfare (Feb., 1976)
In January 1976, 19-year old U.S. Army Private David Lewis, stationed at Fort Dix, joined his platoon on a 50-mile hike through the New Jersey snow. Lewis didn't have to go; he was suffering from flu and had been confined to his quarters by his unit's medical officer. Thirteen miles into the hike, Lewis collapsed and died a short time later of pneumonia caused by influenza. Because Lewis was young, generally healthy and should not have succumbed to the common flu, his death set off a cascade of uncertainty that confused the scientists, panicked the government and eventually embittered a public made distrustful of authority by Vietnam and Watergate.
This past Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano left open the possibility of a mass immunization program for the current outbreak of swine flu. If that happens, the Obama administration has a lot to learn from the debacle set in motion by Private Lewis' ill-fated hike.
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