Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses doi:10.1111/j.1750-2659.2009.00080.x
Mortality burden of the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic in Europe
Séverine Ansar et al.
Background The origin and estimated death toll of the 1918–1919 epidemic are still debated. Europe, one of the candidate sites for pandemic emergence, has detailed pandemic mortality information.
Objective To determine the mortality impact of the 1918 pandemic in 14 European countries, accounting for approximately three-quarters of the European population (250 million in 1918).
Methods We analyzed monthly all-cause civilian mortality rates in the 14 countries, accounting for approximately three-quarters of the European population (250 million in 1918). A periodic regression model was applied to estimate excess mortality from 1906 to 1922. Using the 1906–1917 data as a training set, the method provided a non-epidemic baseline for 1918–1922. Excess mortality was the mortality observed above this baseline. It represents the upper bound of the mortality attributable to the flu pandemic.
Results Our analysis suggests that 2·64 million excess deaths occurred in Europe during the period when Spanish flu was circulating. The method provided space variation of the excess mortality: the highest and lowest cumulative excess/predicted mortality ratios were observed in Italy (+172%) and Finland (+33%). Excess-death curves showed high synchrony in 1918–1919 with peak mortality occurring in all countries during a 2-month window (Oct–Nov 1918).
Conclusions During the Spanish flu, the excess mortality was 1·1% of the European population. Our study highlights the synchrony of the mortality waves in the different countries, which pleads against a European origin of the pandemic, as was sometimes hypothesized.Link