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Thomson Reuters Web of Science(R) Provides Insights Into More than a Century of Influenza Research for Today's Health Professionals

Utilizing the 110 Years of Coverage of International Scholarly Journals, Web of Science Can Identify Highly Valuable Research Relating to Influenza Epidemics, Affording Knowledge and Perspective in the Face of the Current Swine Flu Outbreak

PHILADELPHIA and LONDON, April 30 /PRNewswire/ -- Web of Science is the world's leading citation database covering more than 11,000 authoritative scholarly journals and 130,000 academic conferences from around the globe in all fields of scholarly research. The unique capability of Web of Science's citation coverage facilitates the linking between current research articles and those articles that were utilized by the researchers. Additionally citations can instantly uncover the most important high-impact research.

"This information uses the Web of Science to uncover important research from the past that may help researchers investigate the current Swine Influenza outbreak," said Chris King, Science Watch editor, Healthcare and Science business of Thomson Reuters.

Historic Trends

Searching article titles in the Web of Science using the Boolean search: "(influenza or flu) and epidem*" will find 1,477 unique articles. Looking at the year of publication of the articles, there is a distinct and large peak in the number of records published shortly after the outbreak of A/H1N1 influenza (Spanish Flu) in 1918-1919.

Figure #1: Number of articles per year relating to influenza epidemics

Source = Thomson Reuters - Web of Science(R)

Although early indications(1) suggest that it will not have the virulence of the 1918 influenza epidemic, the 2009 outbreak of Swine Influenza is also the A/H1N1(2) strain, unlike the 1957 Asian Flu (A/H2N2 strain) or the 1968 Hong Kong flu (A/H3N3 strain)(3). Both the Asian and Hong Kong Flu epidemics have also been succeeded by an increase in the number of scholarly articles published.

The more recent high activity in research may be related to the repeated outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of influenza, often known as bird or avian influenza, particularly during 2003 and 2005.

It is worth noting that in general terms, the overall volumes of scholarly articles published in all fields of research have been increasing year on year. Therefore the size of the peak in the period of 1918-1924 is actually far higher when considered as a proportion of the overall body of scholarly research published in the same period. Figure #2 shows the publishing trend normalized to 2008 levels of publishing volumes.

Figure #2: Normalized number of articles per year relating to influenza epidemics.

Normalized to represent the number of articles that would have been published if the global research output at that period of time were consistent with 2008 levels

Source = Thomson Reuters - Web of Science(R)

Highly Cited Articles

Measuring the number of citations to an article gives an indication of how influential the article has been and can be a useful tool to quickly identify the most important and groundbreaking research. There are many relevant and highly cited articles published throughout the period. Selected examples of interest are listed below:

Table #1: Selected highly cited articles from the Web of Science relating to influenza epidemics published between 1918 and 1980

        Houswort.J; Langmuir, AD.
        Excess mortality from epidemic influenza, 1957-1966.
        AMERICAN JOURNAL OF EPIDEMIOLOGY. 100 (1): 40-48. (1974)
        Times Cited: 135

        Eickhoff, TC; Sherman, IL; Serfling, RE.
        Observations on excess mortality associated with epidemic influenza.
        Times Cited: 155

        Davenport, FM; Hennessy, AV; Francis, T.
        Epidemiologic and immunologic significance of age distribution of
        antibody to antigenic variants of influenza virus.
        JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL MEDICINE 98 (6): 641-656. (1953)
        Times Cited: 237

        Horsfall, FL.
        Neutralization of epidemic influenza virus - The linear relationship
        between the quantity of serum and the quantity of virus neutralized.
        JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL MEDICINE. 70 (2): 209-222. (1939)
        Times Cited: 165

Many articles published in older literature continue to be cited in the present day demonstrating that they are still of value to current research.

Thankfully, influenza epidemics are a rare occurrence, and the last epidemic of A/H1N1 strain was in 1918. Scholarly research from that period of time may be of value to researchers today, however research from this period can be difficult to locate because most literature databases do not cover so far back in time. Furthermore, narrowing in on the relevant and important articles may prove difficult because the research has fallen out of institutional memory. The Web of Science with its excellent retrospective coverage and powerful search tools based on citations can be a useful aid to discovering this hard to locate information.

Cited References

(1) BBC, Swine flu: How serious a threat? , Available at, (2009).

(2) Chan, Margaret, Statement by WHO Director-General, Available at, (2009).

(3) Adams, Mike, How to Beat the Bird Flu: Strategies for Surviving the Coming Pandemic (Truth Publishing International Ltd, 2005).

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