Health

1918 Influenza Provides Warning for Potential Future Pandemic Reemergence

The 1918 influenza pandemic provides a cautionary tale for what the future may hold for COVID-19, says a Michigan State University researcher.

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After a decade studying a flu virus that killed approximately 15,000 Michigan residents, Siddharth Chandra, a professor in MSU’s James Madison College, saw his research come to life as he watched the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was so surreal,” said Chandra, who has a courtesy appointment in epidemiology and biostatistics. “All of a sudden, I was living my research.”

Chandra’s research was published online Feb. 10 in the American Journal of Public Health with co-authors Julia Christensen, a graduate of James Madison College; Madhur Chandra, Senior Community Epidemiologist with the Ingham County Health Department and graduate of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at MSU; and Nigel Paneth, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and pediatrics at MSU

Using influenza infection and mortality data on Michigan from 1918-1920, Chandra identified four distinct waves. The first large peak was in March 1918. “After a second spike in cases in October 1918, the governor instituted a statewide ban on public gatherings,” Chandra said. “Much like the restrictions that were put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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