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1918 Flu and COVID-19: What Can We Learn From The Past, Jan 27 webinar

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Announcement written by Tomoko Y. Steen, PhD. and Ashley Cuffia, MLS, MS, Science Reference Section, ST&B Division.

The Library’s Health Services and Science, Technology & Business Divisions will be hosting the virtual panel discussion “1918 Flu and COVID-19: What Can We Learn from the Past?” on Wednesday, January 27th at 10 a.m. EST.  The event is open to Library employees and the public. Registration is required and limited to 1,000 participants.

Preparing anti-toxin for “flu” sufferers. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

According to scientists, the 1918 flu first appeared in the United States at Camp Funston army base in Kansas. Due to the pandemic breaking out during WWI, information about its spread was strictly controlled by the government, not only in the U.S., but also in many other countries involved in WWI.  Spain, which stood as a neutral country during the war, openly reported the progress of outbreaks, and for this reason, the 1918 flu was referred to as the  “Spanish flu.”  There were a total of four separate waves of this flu that spread throughout the world. From February 1918 to April 1920, over 500 million people were infected across the globe, or one third of the World’s population, and an estimated 20-50 million people died.

The strain which caused this influenza pandemic was the H1N1 influenza A virus. Identifying the source of the microbes, or being able to identify if it was caused by virus or bacteria was hard in 1918 due to the limited technology that was available.  Panelist Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger and his team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) were the first to identify and sequence these strains. Panelist Professor Marc Lipsitch from Harvard Medical School also led an investigation to determine the infectious mechanisms of the 1918 flu. Unlike many other pandemics, including COVID-19, the 1918 flu mostly impacted the young, healthy working populations in the 18-35 age range.

By thoroughly studying our past pandemics, we will be able to organize public health measures, create treatment plans, and develop vaccines to combat and curb the current pandemic and those that could occur in the future. Public participation in this effort is crucial. For this reason, the Health Services Office and the Science, Technology & Business Division at the Library of Congress have invited these experts to discuss what we can learn from the 1918 flu and other influenza outbreaks to aid in managing the current COVID-19 pandemic.


Library of Congress

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Food and Drug Administration

National Institutes of Health

World Health Organization

During this session there will be limited time for questions. Attendees are encouraged to submit questions for the panelists in advance using the Ask a Librarian: Science & Technical Reports service. When submitting a question, please indicate that it is for the January 27th webinar.

Registration is required.

Individuals requiring accommodations for any of these events are requested to submit a request at least five business days in advance by contacting (202) 707-6362 or [email protected].

Comments (2)

  1. Friend of Dr. Steen

  2. I am a public librarian, and I would like a visual comparison of the 1918-1920 flu pandemic compared to our current COVID 19 pandemic.

    Has anyone seen such a thing?
    What I would like is one I can update over time, say a graph showing how many deaths (worldwide or US) over time, with an accompanying line I can update each month showing how many deaths we have from COVID 2020-current.

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