Background: The reasons for the unusual age-specific mortality patterns of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic remain unknown. Here we characterize pandemic-related mortality by single year of age in a unique statewide Kentucky data set and explore breakpoints in the age curves.
Methods: Individual death certificates from Kentucky during 1911-1919 were abstracted by medically trained personnel. Pandemic-associated excess mortality rates were calculated by subtracting observed rates during pandemic months from rates in previous years, separately for each single year of age and by sex.
Results: The age profile of excess mortality risk in fall 1918 was characterized by a maximum among infants, a minimum at ages 9-10 years, a maximum at ages 24-26 years, and a second minimum at ages 56-59 years. The excess mortality risk in young adults had been greatly attenuated by winter 1919. The age breakpoints of mortality risk did not differ between males and females.
Conclusions: The observed mortality breakpoints in male and female cohorts born during 1859-1862, 1892-1894, and 1908-1909 did not coincide with known dates of historical pandemics. The atypical age mortality patterns of the 1918-1919 pandemic cannot be explained by military crowding, war-related factors, or prior immunity alone and likely result from a combination of unknown factors.