Saturday, February 03, 2007

Insights Into How American Towns And Cities Fought The 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic

The New York Times story we linked to in our last post, about the US government's new categorisation system for flu pandemics, also contains some fascinating insights into how the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was fought in towns and cities across the United States.

The Centre For Disease Control and the University of Michigan's medical school conducted a study into how 44 American cities coped with the Spanish Flu outbreaks. Newspaper clippings form the era, and hospital records, were examined, to find out why some American cities were devastated by the outbreaks, and others managed to control them.

From the New York Times :

While a few tiny towns escaped the epidemic entirely by cutting off all contact with outside, most cities took less drastic measures.

These included isolating the sick and quarantining homes and rooming houses, closing schools, churches, bars and other gathering places, canceling parades, ball games, theaters and other public events, staggering factory hours, barring door-to-door sales, discouraging the use of public transport and encouraging the use of face masks.

The most effective measure seemed to be moving early and quickly.

For example, said Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian and one of the study’s leaders, Philadelphia, the worst-hit city, had nearly three times as many sick and dead per capita as St. Louis, which had was hit weeks later by the virus moving inland from the Eastern Seaboard and had time to react as soon as flu cases rose above averages.

“No matter how you set up the model,” Dr. Markel said, “the cities that acted earlier and with more layered protective measures fared better.”

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