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, 104 (18), 7582-7

Public Health Interventions and Epidemic Intensity During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

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Public Health Interventions and Epidemic Intensity During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Richard J Hatchett et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Abstract

Nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) intended to reduce infectious contacts between persons form an integral part of plans to mitigate the impact of the next influenza pandemic. Although the potential benefits of NPIs are supported by mathematical models, the historical evidence for the impact of such interventions in past pandemics has not been systematically examined. We obtained data on the timing of 19 classes of NPI in 17 U.S. cities during the 1918 pandemic and tested the hypothesis that early implementation of multiple interventions was associated with reduced disease transmission. Consistent with this hypothesis, cities in which multiple interventions were implemented at an early phase of the epidemic had peak death rates approximately 50% lower than those that did not and had less-steep epidemic curves. Cities in which multiple interventions were implemented at an early phase of the epidemic also showed a trend toward lower cumulative excess mortality, but the difference was smaller (approximately 20%) and less statistically significant than that for peak death rates. This finding was not unexpected, given that few cities maintained NPIs longer than 6 weeks in 1918. Early implementation of certain interventions, including closure of schools, churches, and theaters, was associated with lower peak death rates, but no single intervention showed an association with improved aggregate outcomes for the 1918 phase of the pandemic. These findings support the hypothesis that rapid implementation of multiple NPIs can significantly reduce influenza transmission, but that viral spread will be renewed upon relaxation of such measures.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Excess P&I mortality over 1913–1917 baseline in Philadelphia and St. Louis, September 8–December 28, 1918. Data are derived from ref. .
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Relationship of (a) peak weekly excess P&I death rate and (b) total excess P&I death rate during the study period to the timing of various NPIs. Cities were divided evenly into those intervening early (black bars) vs. late or not at all (gray bars), and the median outcome for the early and late groups was plotted. The first two groups of bars assess overall timing of intervention, comparing those cities that announced four or more NPIs before experiencing 20/100,000 CEPID with those with three or fewer and those that announced five or more NPIs before experiencing 30/100,000 CEPID with those with four or fewer. The remaining groups compare those cities that announced particular measures before experiencing 30/100,000 CEPID with those that did not. Significance by Mann–Whitney U test: ∗, P < 0.05; ∗∗, P < 0.01.

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