In 1918 the Great War (WWI) was winding down. Americans saw peace on the horizon. They were not prepared for what was about to happen. Small outbreaks of the Flu erupted here and there but they seemed benign, at first. It was strange that those infected most were between the ages of 20 and 40. Flu usually struck the very old and very young.
It covered the world, spread by human carriers along travel and trade routes. Returning soldiers then brought a second wave of death with them back to America in September. There were 200,000 deaths reported the following month. It was a complete public health disaster. Medical students were released early from school to be put into the field to try to contain the pandemic.
Surprisingly, the Spanish Flu disappeared almost as fast as it had come on. It was largely forgotten by Americans during the following decades, until 2009. You can probably remember the scare we had just two years ago when the H1N1 virus was circulating. It was a mutation of the Spanish Flu from 90 years ago. We may have dodged a bullet in 2009, but how long will our luck hold?
20% of the world’s population was infected.
30-50 million people worldwide died.
Twice as many people died of the Flu than were killed in WWI.
More died in a single year than in 4 years of the Black Death Plague.
The 1918 Spanish Flu by the numbers in AMERICA:
28% of all Americans were infected.
10 times more Americans died of the Flu than in WWI combat.
50% of U.S. military casualties in Europe were from the Flu.
43,000 American soldiers died.
12 year drop was seen in the average life expectancy in 1918 alone.
25 times higher mortality rate than in 1917.
(numbers are from the U.S. Archives and Stanford University)
“I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza,
I opened the window,
(children’s rope skipping rhyme in 1918)