Monday, June 15, 2015

Lessons from the 1918 Spanish Flu

The 1918-1919 Spanish Flu, so called because Spain was the first country able to widely report on the outbreaks in both Madrid and Seville, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide (roughly one third of the planet's population) and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims. A May 27th Vox article titled, The most predictable disaster in the history of the human race, outlines the case that the world is not prepared for another pandemic. The feature highlights how a disease that transmitted like the Spanish flu of 1918 would act in today's well-connected world. Using our disease modeling software, we demonstrate that, unlike the world of 1918, a disease like the Spanish flu, would spread to nearly all urban centers within 60 days and would kill more than 33 million people in just 250 days. Citing a 1990 publication on "The Anthropology of Infectious Disease," Marcia Inhorn and Peter Brown estimated that infectious diseases "have likely claimed more lives than all wars, non-infectious diseases, and natural disasters put together." Plainly speaking, their research calls out that infectious disease is humanity's oldest and deadliest foe. Advancements in our understanding of disease dynamics and quantitative modeling analysis have made it possible to enable global health programs to move beyond control to eradication.