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, 12 (1), 15-22

1918 Influenza: The Mother of All Pandemics


1918 Influenza: The Mother of All Pandemics

Jeffery K Taubenberger et al. Emerg Infect Dis.


The "Spanish" influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, which caused approximately 50 million deaths worldwide, remains an ominous warning to public health. Many questions about its origins, its unusual epidemiologic features, and the basis of its pathogenicity remain unanswered. The public health implications of the pandemic therefore remain in doubt even as we now grapple with the feared emergence of a pandemic caused by H5N1 or other virus. However, new information about the 1918 virus is emerging, for example, sequencing of the entire genome from archival autopsy tissues. But, the viral genome alone is unlikely to provide answers to some critical questions. Understanding the 1918 pandemic and its implications for future pandemics requires careful experimentation and in-depth historical analysis.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Three pandemic waves: weekly combined influenza and pneumonia mortality, United Kingdom, 1918–1919 (21).
Figure 2
Figure 2
"U-" and "W-" shaped combined influenza and pneumonia mortality, by age at death, per 100,000 persons in each age group, United States, 1911–1918. Influenza- and pneumonia-specific death rates are plotted for the interpandemic years 1911–1917 (dashed line) and for the pandemic year 1918 (solid line) (33,34).
Figure 3
Figure 3
Influenza plus pneumonia (P&I) (combined) age-specific incidence rates per 1,000 persons per age group (panel A), death rates per 1,000 persons, ill and well combined (panel B), and case-fatality rates (panel C, solid line), US Public Health Service house-to-house surveys, 8 states, 1918 (36). A more typical curve of age-specific influenza case-fatality (panel C, dotted line) is taken from US Public Health Service surveys during 1928–1929 (37).

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