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The 1918 flu pandemic had a long tail. MSU researcher says it holds lessons for COVID-19.

1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic
Posted at 6:30 AM, Mar 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 06:39:31-05

MSU CAMPUS — Siddarth Chandra has spent a decade studying the 1918 flu pandemic in Michigan. The Michigan State University researcher says the past year has been like watching his work come to life.

Now, he’s saying it should serve as a cautionary tale that containing the pandemic could be a longer battle than most people think.

Chandra is the director of the Asian Studies Program at MSU and a professor in the James Madison College. He says so much of the "new normal" we’ve been navigating this past year reminded him of his research.

“I was thinking this sounds just like 1918,” he said.

The study tracked excess mortality rates in all 83 counties across Michigan from 1918 to 1920.

“What we found is that during the time of the pandemic, during the period 1918 to 1920 there were four distinct bumps in excess mortality,” Chandra said.

After seeing a surge two years after initial cases, he said, he hopes the findings can serve to remind people not to let their guard down in the modern-day pandemic. Local health officials fighting to contain today’s virus agree.

“I realize we looked back at a 1918 study but we’ve also been watching the current data and we’ve been saying we are at risk of a fourth surge,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said.

Vaccination eligibility is expanding as more vaccine is made available but, as the numbers show, there are still a lot of Americans left out.

“We have certainly far in excess of 100 million people in circulation today who have neither been vaccinated nor been exposed to the virus - this includes myself by the way - so what this means is that we are all still susceptible to the disease. That means there is, I think, a chance that we may see another spike and that spike may be worse,” Chandra said.

Cases here in Lansing are starting to plateau but local health officials say the number still needs to go down.

“In the past, that plateau has been followed by a surge. So we are concerned about that really when we plateau at about three or four times the low point that we had back in June. So, it’s a little bit concerning,” Vail said.

But both Vail and Chandra are optimistic about the vaccination process as more doses are being distributed here in Michigan.

To read the full study from Chandra and his team click here.

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