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An extended period of elevated influenza mortality risk follows the main waves of influenza pandemics

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Article number115975
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/07/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>Social Science and Medicine
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date8/06/23
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Understanding the extent and evolution of pandemic-induced mortality risk is critical given its wide-ranging impacts on population health and socioeconomic outcomes. We examine empirically the persistence and scale of influenza mortality risk following the main waves of influenza pandemics, a quantitative analysis of which is required to understand the true scale of pandemic-induced risk. We provide evidence from municipal public health records that multiple recurrent outbreaks followed the main waves of the 1918-19 pandemic in eight large cities in the UK, a pattern we confirm using data for the same period in the US and data for multiple influenza pandemics during the period 1838–2000 in England and Wales. To estimate the persistence and scale of latent post-pandemic influenza mortality risk, we model the stochastic process of mortality rates as a sequence of bounded Pareto distributions whose tail indexes evolves over time. Consistently across pandemics and locations, we find that influenza mortality risk remains elevated for around two decades after the main pandemic waves before more rapid convergence to background influenza mortality, amplifying the impact of pandemics. Despite the commonality in duration, there is heterogeneity in the persistence and scale of risk across the cities, suggesting effects of both immunity and socioeconomic conditions.