Between 1918 and 1919, an outbreak of influenza spread rapidly across the world, and killed more than 50 million—and possibly as many as 100 million—people within 15 months.
The speed of the pandemic was shocking; the numbers of dead bodies overwhelmed hospitals and cemeteries. Quarantine centers, emergency hospitals, public use of gauze masks, and awareness campaigns were all undertaken swiftly to halt the spread. But as World War I was coming to a close, millions of soldiers were still traveling across the globe, aiding the spread of the disease.
The flu was first observed in Europe, the US and parts of Asia before it quickly spread throughout the world. It was wrongly named the Spanish flu because it was first reported in the Madrid daily newspaper ABC. However, modern scientists now believe the virus could have started in Kansas, US. In 1918, there was no vaccination to protect against flu. It was later discovered that in many victims the vicious virus had invaded their lungs and caused pneumonia.
Gathered here are images from the battle against one of the deadliest events in human history, when the flu killed up to 6 percent of the Earth’s population in just over a year.
A U.S. Army camp hospital in Aix-Les-Baines France during World War I. It is estimated that 20 percent – 40 percent of U.S. soldiers and sailors were ill, primarily from influenza virus, during the height of the war causing tremendous suffering and impacts on mission readiness. (Corbis / National Geographic)
Policemen stand in a street in Seattle, Washington, wearing protective masks made by the Seattle Chapter of the Red Cross, during the influenza epidemic in 1918. (National Archives)
Combating influenza in Seattle in 1918, workers wearing masks on their faces in a Red Cross room. (National Archives)
in caps and gowns ready to attend patients in the influenza ward of the
U.S. Naval Hospital on Mare Island, California, on December 10, 1918.
Influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas in 1918. (National Museum of Health / AP)
typist wears her influenza mask in October of 1918. Worried by the hold
that disease had taken in New York City, practically all workers
covered their faces in gauze masks as a protection against disease.
Court is held in the open air in San Francisco in 1918. (Bettmann / Bettmann Archive)
congregation prays on the steps of the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the
Assumption, where they gathered to attend mass and pray during the
influenza epidemic, in San Francisco, California. (Bettmann / Bettmann
While schools were closed during the influenza pandemic, many
American children made toys for refugee children overseas. (National
The U.S. Army 39th regiment wear masks to prevent influenza in Seattle in December of 1918. The soldiers are on their way to France. (Everett Historical / Shutterstock)