A review of the 1918 herald pandemic wave: importance for contemporary pandemic response strategies.


Mounting epidemiological evidence supports the occurrence of a mild herald pandemic wave in the spring and summer of 1918 in North America and Europe, several months before the devastating autumn outbreak that killed an estimated 2% of the global population. These epidemiological findings corroborate the anecdotal observations of contemporary clinicians who reported widespread influenza outbreaks in spring and summer 1918, with sporadic occurrence of unusually severe clinical manifestations in young adults. Initially seen as controversial, these findings were eventually confirmed by retrospective identification of influenza specimens collected from U.S. soldiers who died from acute respiratory infections in May-August 1918. Other studies found that having an episode of influenza illness during the spring herald wave was highly protective in the severe autumn wave. Here, we conduct a systematic review of the clinical, epidemiological, and virological evidence supporting the global occurrence of mild herald waves of the 1918 pandemic and place these historic observations in the context of pandemic preparedness. Taken together, historic experience with the 1918 and subsequent pandemics shows that increased severity in second and later pandemic waves may be the rule rather than the exception. Thus, a sustained pandemic response in the first years following a future pandemic is critical; conversely, multiwave pandemic patterns allow for more time to rollout vaccines and antivirals.

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