Focus Introduction

When swine flu made national headlines last spring, it wasn’t the first time.  A similar flu scare began in February, 1976, with the sudden death of 19-year-old Pvt. David Lewis of Fort Dix, New Jersey. He was found to have been killed by “swine flu,” a virus thought to resemble the one responsible for the 1918 flu pandemic. On the advice of worried health officials, president Gerald Ford ordered the implementation of a mass inoculation program. Unfortunately, reports surfaced that the vaccine was causing people to develop an autoimmune disorder and had resulted in several deaths.  The program ended abruptly on Dec. 16. Thirty years later, swine flu has reemerged as a prime health concern, with the same attendant public paranoia. This focus examines the H1N1 epidemic and its impact on the Harvard community, both in terms of the university’s public health response and student experiences of illness, whether serious or facetious. Including a Crimson article chronicling the 1976 scare, it aims to provide perspective, and poke some fun at, our current public health woes.

—Courtney A. Fiske ‘11 and Adrienne Y. Lee ’12