Discovery and characterization of the 1918 pandemic influenza virus in historical context

Antivir Ther. 2007;12(4 Pt B):581-91.


The 2005 completion of the entire genome sequence of the 1918 H1N1 pandemic influenza virus represents both a beginning and an end. Investigators have already begun to study the virus in vitro and in vivo to better understand its properties, pathogenicity, transmissibility and elicitation of host responses. Although this is an exciting new beginning, characterization of the 1918 virus also represents the culmination of over a century of scientific research aiming to understand the causes of pandemic influenza. In this brief review we attempt to place in historical context the identification and sequencing of the 1918 virus, including the alleged discovery of a bacterial cause of influenza during the 1889-1893 pandemic, the controversial detection of 'filter-passing agents' during the 1918-1919 pandemic, and subsequent breakthroughs in the 1930s that led to isolation of human and swine influenza viruses, greatly influencing the development of modern virology.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / virology
  • Disease Outbreaks / history*
  • Female
  • Genome, Viral
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype* / classification
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype* / genetics
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype* / isolation & purification
  • Influenza in Birds / virology
  • Influenza, Human / history*
  • Influenza, Human / virology
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / virology
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Swine / virology
  • Swine Diseases / virology