Diffusion of influenza during the winter of 1889-1890 in Switzerland

Jean-Marie Le Goff



The influenza of the winter of 1889-90 was one of the first epidemics to spread all over the world. At the time, several people hypothesized that the railway was one of the main vectors of diffusion of this influenza. This hypothesis was defended in Switzerland especially by Schmid, Chief of the Swiss Office of Health, who collected an impressive body of material about the spread of the epidemic in that country.  These data on influenza combined with data about the structure of the railway are used in this paper in order to test the hypothesis of a mixed diffusion process, first between communes interconnected by the railway, and secondly, between those communes and neighbouring communes. An event history analysis model taking into account diffusion effects is proposed and estimated. Results show that the hypothesis is supported if the railway network in Switzerland is not taken as a whole but if a distinction between railway companies is made.



Jean-Marie LE GOFF, Lecturer and research scientist, Life Course and Social Inequalities Research Center (LINES), Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lausanne, Vidy Building, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland. E-mail:


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ISSN: 2035-5556

Reg. Tribunale di Roma n. 3321/54