Potential Influenza Effects On Military Populations, by John Bombardt Jr. & Heidi Brown
It is striking to think of the relevance of the 1918 Influenza pandemic and our own current situation. Even though it appears at present that both the deaths and the death rates of the Coronavirus are far lower than the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, there are still plenty of relevant aspects of that public health crisis to our contemporary concerns and this paper does a good job at demonstrating the relevance and using a mathematics-heavy probabilistic analysis to ponder the contemporary problems that a similar pandemic would have on the military. The combination of historical analysis, sound reasoning, and mathematics makes this a worthwhile paper to read for those who are interested in pondering the effect of public health problems on the ability of the military to engage in operations while being concerned about the health and training of a large body of people whose morale is negatively effected by what seem to be basic matters of quarantine and isolation. The fact that this is not only true of recruits who want to prove their manhood in fighting in World War I but is also true of any ordinary American citizens in similar circumstances, which should be recognized.
This paper is about 100 pages long and it consists of several parts. The first part of the book consists of a historical analysis of the 1918 influenza pandemic that affected both military bases in the United States as well as the armies in Europe on the Western front of World War I. The authors talk about the harmful effects of the flu on the morale of troops who did not want to be isolated for days and weeks and for front line troops who were unable to get rest because the reinforcement troops were sick and in the hospital for various respiratory problems that doctors were ill-equipped to handle. After this historical discussion most of the rest of the paper consists of a statistical analysis of the infection and mortality from the flu from various camps in World War I and what expectations could be had for a contemporary problem like that based on various assumptions at the effectiveness of treatments and health efforts. Ultimately, if the authors remain pessimistic (and wisely so) that pandemics can be avoided, they are perhaps more optimistic about treatment options than is warranted by our current situation.
There are at least a few aspects of this paper that are highly relevant to the contemporary concerns about the public health of America and other places. For one, the paper casts doubt on the ability of public health efforts at flu vaccines and other efforts to prevent such pandemics from happening in the first place. That is what we have seen with problems like the H1N1 bird flu a bit more than a decade ago (which I managed to get in Argentina; it was not a fun experience) and other related diseases. Likewise, the authors of this paper point out that there may be a variety of causes of the flu, including biological warfare as well as a laboratory accident. It is not so much that the authors predict the current situation but rather they look at the circumstances that are most likely and ponder on the ability of the public health of the United States and other countries at being able to deal with such matters. The authors note that American troops may be in more danger stateside than on foreign bases, as appears to be the case at present, and the paper is certainly a lot more relevant at the current time than it likely has been for quite a while.