Differential mortality of infectious disease in Italian polities: COVID-19, past plague epidemics, and currently endemic respiratory disease

John Michael Jurgensen, Mateo Peñaherrera-Aguirre, Aurelio José Figueredo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has harshly impacted Italy since its arrival in February 2020. In particular, provinces in Italy's Central and Northern macroregions have dealt with disproportionately greater case prevalence and mortality rates than those in the South. In this paper, we compare the morbidity and mortality dynamics of 16th and 17th century Plague outbreaks with those of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic across Italian regions. We also include data on infectious respiratory diseases which are presently endemic to Italy in order to analyze the regional differences between epidemic and endemic disease. A Growth Curve Analysis allowed for the estimation of time-related intercepts and slopes across the 16th and 17th centuries. Those statistical parameters were later incorporated as criterion variables in multiple General Linear Models. These statistical examinations determined that the Northern macroregion had a higher intercept than the Southern macroregion. This indicated that provinces located in Northern Italy had historically experienced higher plague mortalities than Southern polities. The analyses also revealed that this geographical differential in morbidity and mortality persists to this day, as the Northern macroregion has experienced a substantially higher COVID-19 mortality than the Southern macroregion. These results are consistent with previously published analyses. The only other stable and significant predictor of epidemic disease mortality was foreign urban potential, a measure of the degree of interconnectedness between 16th and 17th century Italian cities. Foreign urban potential was negatively associated with plague slope and positively associated with plague intercept, COVID-19 mortality, GDP per capita, and immigration per capita. Its substantial contribution in predicting both past and present outcomes provides a temporal continuity not seen in any other measure tested here. Overall, this study provides compelling evidence that temporally stable geographical factors, impacting both historical and current foreign pathogen spread above and beyond other hypothesized predictors, underlie the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had throughout Central and Northern Italian provinces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105081
JournalInfection, Genetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Bubonic plague
  • COVID-19
  • Endemic disease
  • Epidemic disease
  • Italian population dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


Dive into the research topics of 'Differential mortality of infectious disease in Italian polities: COVID-19, past plague epidemics, and currently endemic respiratory disease'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this