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Rapid Response was Crucial to Containing the 1918 Flu Pandemic

rough MIDAS, researchers have developed computer models to examine how a future pandemic influenza virus might spread and what interventions could minimize the impact.

Although the MIDAS models cant predict the exact spread of a potential influenza pandemic, they have all suggested that introducing public health measures soon after the first cases appear could greatly reduce the number of people who get sick, says NIGMS Director Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D. The historical analyses help validate the models conclusion and their potential usefulness in preparing for a pandemic.

The ideal way to contain a potential influenza pandemic would be to vaccinate large numbers of people before they were exposed to an influenza virus strain that is easily transmitted from person to person. Developing such a vaccine in advance, however, is difficult because an influenza virus mutates as it replicates, and over time these mutations can alter the virus enough that older vaccines are no longer effective. With current technologies, it would take months to develop a new vaccine after the first cases of pandemic influenza appear.

Nonpharmaceutical interventions may limit the spread of the virus by imposing restrictions on social gatherings where person-to-person transmission can occur. The first of the two historical studies, conducted by a team of researchers from NIAID, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Harvard School of Public Health, looked at 19 different public health measures that were implemented in 17 U.S. cities in the autumn of 1918. The second study, undertaken at Imperial College London, looked at 16 U.S. cities for which both the start and stop dates of interventions were available.

Schools, theaters, churches and dance halls in cities across the country were closed. Kansas City banned weddings and funerals if more than 20 people were to be in attendance. New York mandated staggered shifts at factories to reduce rush hour commuter traffic. S
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