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Open Access Research article

Excess healthcare burden during 1918-1920 influenza pandemic in Taiwan: implications for post-pandemic preparedness

Ying-Hen Hsieh1* and Chi-Ho Chan2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Center for Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research, China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan

2 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Chung Shan Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:41  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-41

Published: 17 January 2011

Abstract

Background

It is speculated that the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus might fall into a seasonal pattern during the current post-pandemic period with more severe clinical presentation for high-risk groups identified during the 2009 pandemic. Hence the extent of likely excess healthcare needs during this period must be fully considered. We will make use of the historical healthcare record in Taiwan during and after the 1918 influenza pandemic to ascertain the scope of potential excess healthcare burden during the post-pandemic period.

Methods

To establish the healthcare needs after the initial wave in 1918, the yearly healthcare records (hospitalizations, outpatients, etc.) in Taiwan during 1918-1920 are compared with the corresponding data from the adjacent "baseline" years of 1916, 1917, 1921, and 1922 to estimate the excess healthcare burden during the initial outbreak in 1918 and in the years immediately after.

Results

In 1918 the number of public hospital outpatients exceeded the yearly average of the baseline years by 20.11% (95% CI: 16.43, 25.90), and the number of hospitalizations exceeded the corresponding yearly average of the baseline years by 12.20% (10.59, 14.38), while the excess number of patients treated by the public medics was statistically significant at 32.21% (28.48, 39.82) more than the yearly average of the baseline years. For 1920, only the excess number of hospitalizations was statistically significant at 19.83% (95% CI: 17.21, 23.38) more than the yearly average of the baseline years.

Conclusions

Considerable extra burden with significant loss of lives was reported in 1918 by both the public medics system and the public hospitals. In comparison, only a substantial number of excess hospitalizations in the public hospitals was reported in 1920, indicating that the population was relatively unprepared for the first wave in 1918 and did not fully utilize the public hospitals. Moreover, comparatively low mortality was reported by the public hospitals and the public medics during the second wave in 1920 even though significantly more patients were hospitalized, suggesting that there had been substantially less fatal illnesses among the hospitalized patients during the second wave. Our results provide viable parameters for assessing healthcare needs for post-pandemic preparedness.