Epidemiology

1918 Flu in 2011

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Science  02 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6047, pp. 1201
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6047.1201-a
CREDIT:AFIP'S NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HEALTH KRT/NEWSCOM

Analyses of historical data from the devastating influenza pandemic of 1918 have facilitated our understanding and preparations for controlling contemporary outbreaks. Fraser et al. accessed previously unpublished data from the fall of 1918, gathered during a household survey of over 7000 Maryland households conducted by Wade Hampton Frost, who led the U.S. Public Health Service's investigations into the Spanish flu. Frost made a mathematical model of disease transmission, which Fraser et al. have expanded on. The most important parameter in epidemic control is transmissibility, and the new analysis shows that rates of transmission within households were actually quite low and very variable. It appears that not only were roughly a fifth of the population immune before the fall wave of infection, but also that there appeared to have been very few asymptomatic infections. These revelations show that influenza is consistently only moderately transmissible and thus always potentially controllable, provided that the measures and tools available to us now remain available.

Am. J. Epidemiol. 174, 10.1093/aje/kwr122 (2011).

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