Analysis And Comment

A slippery disease: a microbiologist's view

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 30 March 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:789
  1. T H Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology (
  1. 1 Medical School Building, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD

    The brachial plexus has always been a mystery to me. As a medical student in 1957, I missed out that part of the course because I was in bed with Asian flu. Memories of its onset are still vivid because the symptoms came on so rapidly and with such strength. We had dipped out of the dissecting room at St Thomas's for a mid-morning break and strolled along the Embankment to Lambeth Bridge. Going there I felt fine. Coming back was terrible because of fever and aching limbs. But the full importance of influenza in 1957 had passed me by—how a new virus (H2N2) had appeared in February in China in Guizhou province, spread to Yunan in March, Singapore and Hong Kong in April, Japan in May, and the United Kingdom in June and July, with a first peak incidence of disease here in October and a second in January 1958. And I did not know then that I had been a victim of the second biggest influenza pandemic in the 20th century.

    Vaccine history

    Ronald Hare, professor of bacteriology at St Thomas's, became my boss in 1963. Hare, with others, discovered haemagglutination and developed an egg grown vaccine against influenza. He was working in North America at the time and a major incentive was …

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