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Understanding the 1918 flu pandemic can aid in better infectious disease response
Date:5/14/2014

COLUMBIA, Mo. The 1918 Flu Pandemic infected over 500 million people, killing at least 50 million. Now, a researcher at the University of Missouri has analyzed the pandemic in two remote regions of North America, finding that despite their geographical divide, both regions had environmental, nutritional and economic factors that influenced morbidity during the pandemic. Findings from the research could help improve current health policies.

"Epidemics such as the Black Death in the 14th century, cholera in the 19th century and malaria have been documented and recorded throughout history," said Lisa Sattenspiel, professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Science at MU. "While it is probably impossible to consider all the dimensions of pandemics, such as cultural, social and political factors, we can get a 'snapshot' by pinpointing similar areas. Our research focused on the 1918 influenza pandemic in Labrador, Canada and Alaska, which are widely separated in space, yet have similar geographic and environmental constraints as well as ethnic overlap."

By analyzing death records and community history, Sattenspiel and her fellow researcher, Svenn-Erik Mamelund, senior researcher at the Work Research Institute of Oslo, found that both Labrador and Alaska were devastated by the 1918 pandemic. Beginning in January 1918 and lasting through December 1920, both regions experienced higher mortality rates than most other parts of the world34 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Archival materials from Labrador and Alaska indicated that circulating pathogens, including pneumonia and tuberculosis, played a role in morbidity. Environmental influences, including harsh, stressful winters, and nutritional factors, such as lack of food, also played a role in susceptibility to influenza. Sattenspiel says that during the summer months in Labrador the influx of infected commercial fishermen played a
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Contact: Jeff Sossamon
sossamonj@missouri.edu
573-882-3346
University of Missouri-Columbia
Source:Eurekalert

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