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August 30, 2005

Fear the Influenza Virus!

Alex Tabarrok is terrified at the power of influenza:

Marginal Revolution: Modern Germs: I was surprised to learn from John M. Barry's excellent book The Great Influenza that germs continued to have a disproprtionate influence on the civilizations well into the twentieth century and perhaps even today. The great influenza of 1918 probably killed 100 million people, about five percent of the entire world's population. An even higher percentage of young people died and most shockingly all of this occured in about 12 weeks. Death was not evenly distributed:

The Western world suffered the least, not because its medicine was so advanced but because urbanization had exposed its population to influenza viruses so immune systems were not naked to it. In the United States, roughly 0.65 percent of the total population died, with roughly double that percentage of young adults killed. Of developed countries, Italy suffered the worst, losing approximately 1 percent of its total population....

The virus simply ravaged the less developed world. In Mexico the most conservative estimate of the death toll was 2.3 percent of the entire population, and other reasonable estimates put the death toll over 4 percent. That means between 5 and 9 percent of all young adults died.... One doctor visiting Inuit in Alaska found everyone dead in 3 villages and 7 other villages with a death toll of 85%. We don't know how many people died in India and China but the rates were certainly higher than in the more urban United States....

Addendum: Bill Johnson at UVA points me to, "Is the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Over?" (NBER), a very recent paper by Douglas Almond. From the abstract:

In the 1960-1980 Decennial U.S. Census data, cohorts in utero during the height of the Pandemic typically display reduced educational attainment, increased rates of physical disability, lower income, lower socioeconomic status, as well as accelerated adult mortality compared with other birth cohorts. In addition, persons born in states with more severe exposure to the Pandemic experienced worse outcomes than those born in states with less severe Pandemic exposures. These results demonstrate that investments aimed at improving fetal health can have substantial long-term effects on subsequent health and economic outcomes.

Posted by DeLong at August 30, 2005 02:45 PM