Transmission dynamics of the great influenza pandemic of 1918 in Geneva, Switzerland: Assessing the effects of hypothetical interventions

G. Chowell, C. E. Ammon, N. W. Hengartner, J. M. Hyman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

218 Scopus citations


Recurrent outbreaks of the avian H5N1 influenza virus in Asia represent a constant global pandemic threat. We characterize and evaluate hypothetical public health measures during the 1918 influenza pandemic in the Canton of Geneva, Switzerland. The transmission rate, the recovery rate, the diagnostic rate, the relative infectiousness of asymptomatic cases, and the proportion of clinical cases are estimated through least-squares fitting of the model to epidemic curve data of the cumulative number of hospital notifications. The latent period and the case fatality proportion are taken from published literature. We determine the variance and identifiability of model parameters via a simulation study. Our epidemic model agrees well with the observed epidemic data. We estimate the basic reproductive number for the spring wave over(R1, ^) = 1.49 (95 % CI: 1.45-1.53) and the reproductive number for the fall wave over(R2, ^) = 3.75 (95 % CI: 3.57-3.93). In addition, we estimate the clinical reporting for these two waves to be 59.7 % (95 % CI: 55.7-63.7) and 83 % (95 % CI: 79-87). We surmise that the lower reporting in the first wave can be explained by a lack of initial awareness of the epidemic and the relative higher severity of the symptoms experienced during the fall wave. We found that effective isolation measures in hospital clinics at best would only ensure control with probability 0.87 while reducing the transmission rate by > 76.5 % guarantees stopping an epidemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-204
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 21 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Influenza
  • Pandemic
  • Reproductive number
  • Spanish flu
  • Switzerland

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Applied Mathematics


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