Community Measures Prevent Deaths During Pandemic
School closures and other community strategies designed to reduce the possibility of spreading disease between people during an epidemic can save lives, particularly when the measures are used in combination and implemented soon after an outbreak begins in a community, according to a new study based on public records from the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic.
The findings, which are published in the Aug. 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, provide vital clues to help public officials planning for the next influenza pandemic and highlight the importance of community strategies. These strategies are particularly important because the intervention most likely to provide the best protection against pandemic influenza -- a vaccine -- is unlikely to be available at the outset of a pandemic. Community strategies that delay or reduce the impact of a pandemic (also called non-pharmaceutical interventions) may help reduce the spread of disease until a vaccine that is well-matched to the virus is available.
Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the University of Michigan Medical School's Center for the History of Medicine completed an exhaustive review of public records such as health department reports, U.S. Census mortality data and newspaper archives.
"Communities that were most successful during the 1918 pandemic quickly enacted a variety of measures," said Dr. Martin Cetron, director of CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine and senior author of the study. "Those planning for the next pandemic need to carefully consider how to best use these strategies to protect people and decrease the potential impact of the next pandemic in their communities."