New light shed on world’s deadliest pandemic mystery

November 15, 2011, University of Queensland

University of Queensland research into the world's most deadly influenza pandemic in 1918 has shed light on a major medical mystery.

The study, published a recent edition of , examined US and Commonwealth military records and controversially suggests that the presence of two different is the reason the second wave of the pandemic was so much deadlier.

The conclusions highlight the importance of acquired immunity and the use of modern vaccinations, lead author and Professor at UQ's Centre for Military & Veterans' Health and Director of the Australian Army Malaria Institute, Dr G. Dennis Shanks said.

He said World War I soldiers and sailors of identical genetic and social backgrounds died at very different rates depending on where they were located.

Geography was thought to have determined what viruses they had previously encountered and conferred resistance on some personnel, while high death rates occurred in other groups.

"There were two major waves of the pandemic, each with very different characteristics," Professor Shanks said.

"Those infected in the first wave were largely protected against death in the second wave, but because some ships in the Southern Hemisphere did not encounter the first wave, those crews suffered extreme mortality in the second wave, with up to 10 percent dying."

He said a similar second wave of influenza had occurred during the 2009 pandemic and understandings of the virus were still imperfect.

" is one of the few diseases capable of shutting down military operations as well as causing widespread illness and death in civilians," Professor Shanks said.

"We are trying to better understand the most extreme in 1918 so we might avoid such consequences in the future."

The study was funded by the US Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC) and co-authored by Dr John Brundage (AFHSC) and Alison MacKenzie and Michael Waller (both of CMVH).

Explore further: Earliest known evidence of 1918 influenza pandemic found

Related Stories

Earliest known evidence of 1918 influenza pandemic found

September 19, 2011
Examination of lung tissue and other autopsy material from 68 American soldiers who died of respiratory infections in 1918 has revealed that the influenza virus that eventually killed 50 million people worldwide was circulating ...

Recommended for you

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Flu may be spread just by breathing, new study shows; coughing and sneezing not required

January 18, 2018
It is easier to spread the influenza virus (flu) than previously thought, according to a new University of Maryland-led study released today. People commonly believe that they can catch the flu by exposure to droplets from ...

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Certain flu virus mutations may compensate for fitness costs of other mutations

January 18, 2018
Seasonal flu viruses continually undergo mutations that help them evade the human immune system, but some of these mutations can reduce a virus's potency. According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens, certain mutations ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.