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Large differences in mortality between urban and isolated rural areas
Date:4/27/2011

In urban communities, less than 1 in 100 inhabitants died from Spanish flu in 1918, but in isolated communities up to 9 out of 10 died. An important explanation for the differences is due to different exposure to influenza in the decades before the Spanish flu came. Those living in urban communities probably had a higher degree of pre-existing immunity that protected against illness and death in 1918 than those living in very isolated rural areas. This is shown in a new study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Previous studies have suggested that an important reason for the large regional differences in mortality must be that people living in cities were more frequently exposed to similar viruses to the one that caused the Spanish flu earlier in life than those living in rural and extremely isolated areas.

"It is not inconceivable that there was a different geographical spread of the virus in the 1800s and early 1900s, at a time when intercontinental communication networks were less developed" said Svenn-Erik Mamelund, a senior adviser in the Division of Infectious Disease Control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

"No one knows exactly which influenza viruses circulated before 1918. But a leading theory is that there were H1-like viruses circulating in the period before the last major pandemic, the Russian pandemic of 1889-90. Some viruses circulating prior to 1889 may therefore have been related to the virus that caused the Spanish flu in 1918, A (H1N1). This would mean that some people who were older than 28-30 years in 1918 may have had some protection against severe infection and death from Spanish flu because of previous exposure to similar viruses," he said.

First to confirm anecdotal information from 1918 with quantitative data

Analyses of age-specific mortality in urban and Western society in 1918, subtracted the expected mortality from seasonal influenza a few years befor
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Contact: Julie Johansen
julie.johansen@fhi.no
Norwegian Institute of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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