Skip to main content
Updated date:

The 1918 Flu Pandemic or Spanish Flu

spanish-flu

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918

In 1918 much of the world was at war. The world would soon come under siege by something much smaller and deadlier than enemy forces. More people would die because of this this small invader than were killed during the entire first world war.

Between 1918-1919 an influenza A virus (H1N1) caused a pandemic infection that would lead to the death of 50-100 million people worldwide, infecting a fifth of the population.

The influenza of 1918 killed more people in two years than in the four years of the bubonic plague, the Black Death and according to author John Barry of the Great Influenza, the virus "killed more people in twenty-four months than AIDS killed in twenty-four years."

Of those who died from the Spanish Flu an estimated 675,000 were Americans.

Sources CDC.

Image: Public health poster from Spanish flu era January 1918. Tuberculosis Association. Wikimedia. Public Domain.

The 1918 Flu Virus

spanish-flu

The possible source of the 1918 influenza A virus was a newly emerged virus from a swine or an avian host of a mutated H1N1 virus.

Bird Flu Virus Picture (1918 Flu Virus). ID#:8243. CDC. Dr. Terrence Tumpey / Cynthia Goldsmith, 2005. Public domain.

The Concern Spreading the Virus

spanish-flu

Text on the Sign:

Spanish Influenza has endangered the prosecution of the WAR in Europe.

There are 1500 cases in the Navy Yard. 30 deaths have already resulted.

SPITTING SPREADS SPANISH INFLUENZA. Don't Spit.

About the sign: This sign was mounted on a wood storage crib at the Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 19 October 1918. As the sign indicates, the "Spanish Influenza" was then extremely active in Philadelphia, with many victims in the Philadelphia Navy Yard and the Naval Aircraft Factory.

Note the sign's emphasis on the epidemic's damage to the war effort.

Image: Influenza Precaution Sign. Photo #: NH 41731-A. Naval Historical Center Website.

More Books on the 1918 Flu on Amazon

The Prevention and Treatment of Influenza

spanish-flu

To prevent the spread of influenza at the time, the public was advised to cover each cough and sneeze with handkerchief. Avoid crowds. If possible, walk to work.

In addition they were admonished to not spit on floor or sidewalk or use common drinking cups and common towels. Avoid excessive fatigue. If taken ill, go to bed and send for a doctor.

Image Source: INFLUENZA Poster. Treasury Department. United States Public Health Service. Washington, D. C. 1918. Printed Ephemera Home. Library of Congress. Public Domain.

Articles on the Pandemic Influenza

  • PLoS Biology: Pandemic Influenza: The Inside Story
    An article on the Pandemic Influenza, including the 1918 Influenza from PLoS Biology.
  • 1918 Influenza Pandemic | CDC EID
    The "Spanish" influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, which caused nearly 50 million deaths worldwide, remains an ominous warning to public health. Many questions about its origins, its unusual epidemiologic features, and the basis of its pathogenicity rema
  • 1918 Influenza Pandemic | CDC EID
    The "Spanish" influenza pandemic of 1918–1919, which caused ≈50 million deaths worldwide, remains an ominous warning to public health. Many questions about its origins, its unusual epidemiologic features, and the basis of its pathogenicity remain una
  • 1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics
    PDF File 1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics by Jeffery K. Taubenberger and David M. Morens in Emerging Infectious Diseases January 2006 pp. 15 - 22.

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918

1918 Flu on Nova's Science Now

  • 1918 Flu at Boston.com
    A virus that killed up to 50 million people is brought back to life to decipher its deadliness. NOVA is produced by WGBH in Boston. Funding for NOVA scienceNOW is provided by Pfizer, the National Science Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institut
  • NOVA | scienceNOW | 1918 Flu | PBS
    Watch a streaming video clip of the NOVA scienceNOW segment on the 1918 flu, take an interactive poll on whether reviving the virus for research purposes was justified, ask microbiologist Terrence Tumpey your questions about its recreation, and more.
  • NOVA | scienceNOW | 1918 Flu | PBS
    Video of the 1918 Flu

American Experience - Influenza 1918 in the Amazon Spotlight

The Spread of the Flu Pandemic in the United States

spanish-flu

In this Map of the 1918 Flu Pandemic you can see how the influenza spread across the United States within less than a month.

Image: Map of the 1918 Flu in the United States. Office of the Public Health Service Historian.

The Great Pandemic of 1918

  • The Great Pandemic : : The United States in 1918-1919 : .
    The Influenza Pandemic occurred in three waves in the United States throughout 1918 and 1919. Learn more about the pandemic, along with the Nation's health and the medical care system and how they were affected.
  • The Great Pandemic : : The Pandemic
    Throughout history, influenza viruses have mutated and caused pandemics or global epidemics. In 1890, an especially virulent influenza pandemic struck, killing many Americans. Those who survived that pandemic and lived to experience the 1918 pandemic
  • The Great Pandemic : : Influenza Strikes
    Throughout history, influenza viruses have mutated and caused pandemics or global epidemics. In 1890, an especially virulent influenza pandemic struck, killing many Americans. Those who survived that pandemic and lived to experience the 1918 pandemic
  • The Great Pandemic : : Voices of the Pandemic
    “On March 30, 1918, the occurrence of eighteen cases of influenza of severe type, from which three deaths resulted was reported at Haskell, Kansas.” Public
  • The Great Pandemic : : Fighting Influenza
    During the mid to late nineteenth-century, physicians and scientists had begun to understand that diseases are caused by microorganisms. This was a radical departure from traditional medical theories which had held that diseases were caused by miasma
  • The Great Pandemic : : The Legacy of the Pandemic
    No one knows exactly how many people died during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. During the 1920s, researchers estimated that 21.5 million people died as a result of the 1918-1919 pandemic. More recent estimates have estimated global mortality from

The Great Influenza in the Amazon Spotlight

Interview with the Author of The Great Influenza

Interview with John M. Barry author of "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History" recorded February 9, 2005 in Seattle .

The Disease

spanish-flu

Many people died within the first few days after coming down with the infection; others died of later of complications. Almost half of those who died from the 1918 influenza were young, healthy adults.

Image: Public Library of Science Journal. Spanish Flu Hospital. Emergency military hospital during influenza epidemic. 1918 - 1919. Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license. Wikimedia. National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C., United States.

The Influenza Epidemic of 1918

World War I claimed an estimated 16 million lives. The influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people. One fifth of the world's population was attacked by this deadly virus. Within months, it had killed more people than any other illness in recorded history.

The Deaths from the 1918 Flu

spanish-flu

This graph of the Mortality Rates from the 1918 Flu - United States and Europe looks at the number of people and the months that people were dying in four different cities: New York, London, Paris and Berlin from June of 1918 to March of 1919.

Image: Influenza Pandemic: Mortality in America and Europe During 1918 and 1919. National Museum of Health and Medicine

America's Forgotten Pandemic in the Amazon Spotlight

The Health Care Professionals

spanish-flu

Nurse wearing a mask as protection against influenza. September 13, 1918.

In October of 1918, Congress approved a $1 million budget for the U. S. Public Health Service to recruit 1000 medical doctors and over 700 registered nurses. Nurses were scarce, as their proximity to and interaction with the disease increased the risk of death.

Source: Selected Records from the National Archives. The Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Record held at National Archives at College Park, MD. Record number 165-WW-269B-5.

Lesson's Learned from the 1918 Flu Pandemic

Memories of the 1918 Flu Pandemic on YouTube

William Follett's memories of the 1918 flu pandemic. Recorded in 2008.

spanish-flu

The Survivors

It has been over 90 years since the 1918 Pandemic took the lives of over 50 million people worldwide. There were still many others who survived the flu, but many children who were left orphaned, or lost many family members because of the Spanish Flu.

Many of the survivors of the pandemic are now in their 90's or 100's. Fortunately many of their memories have been captured on paper or in film. Some of them are include in the links below.

What is interesting about the survivors of the 1918 flu, they may have the cells which hold the key to helping scientists figure out how to build immunity to the H1N1 flu.

Image: A child with influenza, her mother, and a visiting nurse from a local Child Welfare Association. History of Medicine (NLM)

The Stories from Survivors

  • CDC PanFlu Storybook Online
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Pandemic Flu Storybook provides readers with an intimate look at the impact pandemic flu events have had on both survivors and the families and friends of non-survivors. The stories within the pages o
  • Woman recalls 1918 flu Video on CNN.com
    A 100-year-old woman in Littleton, Colorado, remembers the Spanish Flu, which claimed her parents and sister.
  • 1918 flu survivors share memories as research continues - CNN.com
    Roy Braswell was 9 years old when the flu pandemic of 1918 hit.
  • Survivors remember 1918 flu - Infectious diseases- msnbc.com
    The last survivors of the 1918 flu pandemic share stories that offer a glimpse at the forgotten history of one of the world's worst plagues, when the virus killed at least 50 million people and perhaps as many as 100 million.
  • Survivors remember 1918 flu - News Wires - CNBC.com
    The last survivors of the 1918 flu pandemic share stories that offer a glimpse at the forgotten history of one of the world's worst plagues, when the virus killed at least 50 million people and perhaps as many as 100 million.
  • Antibodies To 1918 Flu Found In Elderly Survivors : NPR
    In the journal Nature, scientists report the antibodies were found in 32 people who were alive in 1918 and were able to protect mice infected with a variant of the 1918 virus. The discovery is helping scientists understand what it might take to battl
  • Resurrecting the 1918 Flu Pandemic
    Back in 2005 some researchers journeyed to the Alaskan permafrost to dig up some bodies of victims of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed 50-100 million people worldwide as World War 1 came to a close. They were able to recover the virus from t
spanish-flu

Teaching Students about the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic

The 1918 Spanish Influenza is a good topic to have children and teens study for the science, the history and the medicine.

Students may be interested in knowing that the flu was most deadly for people ages 20 to 40, so many school-aged children and teens might have been the ones to survive the flu when their parents might have been the ones to have died.

Students might also want to know that when the pandemic was at its peak, authorities closed schools and other public gathering places to limit the spread of the disease. Closing schools is an option for helping to control the H1N1 flu.

Image: The Great Pandemic: The United States in 1918-1919. Documents & Media. The Mullens children (and some neighbors) ready for school in Charleston, West Virginia. The Office of the Public Health Service Historian. Library of Congress.

Pandemic 1918 Video

A short slide show about the influenza pandemic of 1918 created to use as a lesson opener for middle school and high school history classes. Created with iMoive.

Lesson Plans for Teaching About the 1918 Influenza

Purple Death : The Mysterious Flu of 1918 in the Amazon Spotlight

Books on the 1918 Flu and Epidemics for Children on Amazon

Historical Resources on the 1918 Flu

  • 1918 Spanish Influenza Outbreak: The Enemy Within
    In the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis, can a government protect the welfare of its citizens at home while rushing millions of troops to battlefields half a world away? In 1918 America faced just such a challenge.
  • The Influenza Epidemic of 1918
    World War I claimed an estimated 16 million lives. The influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people. One fifth of the world's population was attacked by this deadly virus. Within months, it had killed more peo
  • American Historical Association Blog: The Great Pandemic
    In light of the recent swine flu pandemic, it seems timely to look back at the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, often referred to as the Great Pandemic. The deadly virus hit the world at a vulnerable time, as World War I had just come to a close in the ear

The Hope About H1N1 - We are Better Prepared

spanish-flu

The hope with the current H1N1 flu outbreak is that through massive public education about the need to wash hands and cover coughs, staying away from people who are sick, staying home if sick and staying informed about the latest information this bout of influenza will be better dealt with than the 1918 pandemic.

Gregory Hartl, spokesman for the WHO (World Health Organization) had this to say at a press conference referring to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic:

  • I think the world is infinitely better prepared than it was 90 years ago.

One thing for sure is that there is a better understanding now, than there was 90 years ago about the virus, influenza and ways to prevent and manage the flu if it does hit.

Image Source: CDC

spanish-flu

Benefiting Save the Children

This lens benefits Save the Children, the leading independent organization creating lasting change in the lives of children in need in the United States and around the world.

Do you think we are heading towards another major pandemic?

Reader Feedback on the Spanish Flu or 1918 Pandemic

OUTFOXprevention1 on March 08, 2012:

Great to know since we don't want another pandemic! Hygiene is important for prevention!

catbehaviors on March 22, 2011:

Hello, just lensrolled to my lens on the Flu of 1918. Great lens! :)

Ann Hinds from So Cal on February 01, 2011:

I added this as a featured lens on my genealogy lens on my family. My great grandmother talks about the flu in her letters to my grandmother. I was delighted to find something on the topic. Angel blessed.

anonymous on October 26, 2010:

Very interesting lens. Great job.

ChristopherPick on October 08, 2010:

From osteopathic records from 1917-18 it seems that people receiving spinal manipulation, as from chiropractors and osteopaths, where 40 times less likely to die than those relying on conventional medicine.

What is more, a colleague of mine in the USA visited a small town on a special celebration day, commemorating the day in 1918 when a chiropractor arrived and the deaths from flu stopped!

Related Articles