Some selected reading about Covid-19 and pandemics

Several of you have asked me for further reading and reliable sources of information about Covid-19 and previous pandemics. Although there are a great many papers being published about Covid-19, the quality of the majority is shockingly low. Here’s a selection of some of the papers which I think are worth reading. Although details of their science may be a bit technical for some, their summaries and discussions should be accessible.


The best short account of the 1918 influenza pandemic is:
1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics
by Jeffery K. Taubenberger and David M. Morens
This really does put it all into perspective. Wikipedia‘s coverage is also good and extensive.

One important analysis with many lessons for today is:
The effect of public health measures on the 1918 influenza pandemic in U.S. cities
by Martin C. J. Bootsma and Neil M. Ferguson

The later two flu pandemics of the 20th century are often overlooked, but were also quite fearsome – although I was a toddler in the first of those, I was preparing for my first major exams at school during the second, and well remember it. Here’s a brief summary:
Revisiting the 1957 and 1968 influenza pandemics
by Mark Honigsbaum, whose books on pandemics are also well worth a longer read.

Hot topics

Among the many controversial topics about Covid-19, these papers stand out for providing factual context.

Asymptomatic cases are significant, and this review is fairly comprehensive:
Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections: a living systematic review and meta-analysis
by Diana C Buitrago-Garcia et al.

There are claims going round that reinfection is common. It’s not, and this paper looks quite rigorously at just how unusual it is:
Assessment of the risk of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection in an intense re-exposure setting
by Laith J. Abu Raddad et al.
There’s also an excellent and accessible overview by Peter Doherty.

Similarly, there’s been a lot of interest in ‘super-spreader’ events and where they occur. Here’s a good study:
What settings have been linked to SARS-CoV-2 transmission clusters?
Quentin J. Leclerc et al.


Among near-religious arguments about the importance of lockdowns, distancing and masks, the following two papers stand out as putting them in perspective:

Effectiveness of isolation, testing, contact tracing, and physical distancing on reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in different settings: a mathematical modelling study
by Adam Kucharski​ et al.
If you want a longer read of Kucharski’s work which expands into many other subjects, I heartily recommend his book The Rules of Contagion.

Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis
by Derek K Chu et al.

Although it’s not about Covid-19, the best text which covers epidemiology and prevention of influenza is Pandemic Influenza edited by Van-Tam and Sellwood, ISBN 978-1845938574 or 978-1845935788 (original edition). This explains the background to the measures which have been introduced to deal with Covid-19, and the lack of good evidence for many of them.

There are many sites offering different presentations of data for countries around the world. I’m sure that you have your own favourite. However, there are two excellent sources of information about Covid-19 more generally: the US CDC, which unfortunately seems to be having long-term problems in serving its information, and the WHO. Although many criticise the WHO, it has produced a lot of excellent practical and medical information, including weekly overviews, other publications, and its dashboard.

I hope you find those useful in dispelling some of the disinformation which keeps circulating. Stay safe.