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Global Catastrophic Risks Conference - Abstracts

Social, Scientific and Medical Lessons from the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918

Professor John Oxford

As we are approaching the 90th anniversary of the Spanish influenza there is a realization that much can be learnt to help us face the first global outbreak of the 20th century. SARS does not provide a realistic model, the virus being controlled by quarantine. Influenza is a much more dangerous virus. There was advance warning from small outbreaks in 1916 of a newly emerging infection but this information was ignored. The great wave in the autumn of 1918 saw acts of heroism in health care workers and in the community whilst the scientific community struggled to use masks and vaccines. Unexpectedly some quarantine studies were started in the USA to deliberately infect volunteers. With all this in mind, are we ready now to confront the most vicious virus known to us?