The 1918 influenza pandemic was a major epidemiological event of the twentieth century resulting in at least twenty million deaths worldwide; however, despite its historical, epidemiological, and biological relevance, it remains poorly understood. Here we examine the relationship between annual pneumonia and influenza death rates in the pre-pandemic (1910–17) and pandemic (1918–20) periods and the scaling of mortality with latitude, longitude and population size, using data from 66 large cities of the United States. The mean pre-pandemic pneumonia death rates were highly associated with pneumonia death rates during the pandemic period (Spearman r = 0.64–0.72; P,0.001). By contrast, there was a weak correlation between pre-pandemic and pandemic influenza mortality rates. Pneumonia mortality rates partially explained influenza mortality rates in 1918 (r = 0.34, P = 0.005) but not during any other year. Pneumonia death counts followed a linear relationship with population size in all study years, suggesting that pneumonia death rates were homogeneous across the range of population sizes studied. By contrast, influenza death counts followed a power law relationship with a scaling exponent of ,0.81 (95%CI: 0.71, 0.91) in 1918, suggesting that smaller cities experienced worst outcomes during the pandemic. A linear relationship was observed for all other years. Our study suggests that mortality associated with the 1918–20 influenza pandemic was in part predetermined by pre-pandemic pneumonia death rates in 66 large US cities, perhaps through the impact of the physical and social structure of each city. Smaller cities suffered a disproportionately high per capita influenza mortality burden than larger ones in 1918, while city size did not affect pneumonia mortality rates in the pre-pandemic and pandemic periods.
Acuna-Soto R, Viboud C, Chowell G (2011) Influenza and Pneumonia Mortality in 66 Large Cities in the United States in Years Surrounding the 1918 Pandemic. PLoS ONE 6(8): e23467. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023467
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