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Scientists hadn’t seen anything like it. Horse-drawn carts made their way through the streets of the nation to collect the bodies as America struggled to bury its dead. As World War I drew to a close, the U.S. and the world found itself under siege once again, but from a new enemy: influenza. For a second time in over 100 years, the world grapples with an eerily familiar and equally devastating foe.

As COVID-19 continues to dominant news cycles and perplex epidemiologists, perhaps some comfort can be found in looking at the history of pandemics. In collaboration with the National Library of Medicine, undergraduate students at Virginia Tech University intend to do just that, and will be hosting a live videocast on April 29 to present their research findings on the 1918 flu pandemic.

According to the VT press release, the “public research symposium stems from a course in progress, ‘Topics in the History of Data in Social Context,’ taught by E. Thomas Ewing, a history professor and the associate dean for graduate studies and research at the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.”

Ewing’s course is remarkably timely as college campuses nationwide adjust to distance learning in the face of the current pandemic.

“The 1918 influenza pandemic can teach us the importance of taking appropriate public health measures, paying attention to expert guidance on the potential impact of a disease outbreak, and understanding the uncertainty of making predictions of the scope and severity of an epidemic,” Ewing said in the release.

Tomorrow, VT students will present on several main themes from their research findings, including: newspaper reports at the peak of the epidemic, which occurred from late September to early November 1918; social distancing policies and procedures; how contemporaries determined the epidemic’s end; and how people remembered the intense experience of this brief yet deadly crisis in community health.

“The 1918 pandemic remains the worst pandemic in history, killing 50 million people worldwide,” said Jeffrey Reznick, chief of the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine.

“But the lesson of social distancing used then—or ‘reducing crowding,’ as contemporaries called it, can help us appreciate that this practice can work today to reduce transmission of the virus, pressure on our medical systems, and loss of life, all as we support health care providers on the front lines of the pandemic and scientists achieving a vaccine through careful and responsible study of data, evidence, and facts.”

The livestream, titled “Reporting, Recording, and Remembering the 1918 Influenza Epidemic” will be available from 2 to 4 p.m. on the National Institutes of Health videocasting page.