Remembering the 1918 Influenza Pandemic
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza (flu) pandemic that swept the globe in what is still one of the deadliest disease outbreaks in recorded history.
It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus, and the number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the
The pandemic was so severe that from 1917 to 1918, life expectancy in the United States
fell by about 12 years, to 36.6 years for men and 42.2 years for women. There
were high death rates in previously healthy people, including those between the
ages of 20 and 40 years old, which was unusual because flu typically
hits the very young and the very old more than young adults. United States
The Emerging Pandemic
The 1918 flu pandemic occurred during World War I; close quarters and massive troop movements helped fuel the spread of disease.
unusual flu activity was first detected in military camps and some
cities during the spring of 1918. For the United States and other countries involved
in the war, communications about the severity and spread of disease was kept
quiet as officials were concerned about keeping up public morale, and not
giving away information about illness among soldiers during wartime. These
spring outbreaks are now considered a “first wave” of the pandemic;
illness was limited and much milder than would be observed during the two waves
that followed. U.S.
Deadly Second Wave and Third Waves
In September 1918, the second wave of pandemic flu emerged at
a U.S. Army training camp just outside of Boston,
and at a naval facility in .
This wave was brutal and peaked in the Boston from September through
November. More than 100,000 Americans died during October alone. The third and
final wave began in early 1919 and ran through spring, causing yet more illness
and death. While serious, this wave was not as lethal as the second wave. The flu pandemic in
finally subsided in the summer of 1919, leaving decimated families and
communities to pick up the pieces. Scientists now know this pandemic was
caused by an H1N1 virus, which continued to circulate as a seasonal virus
worldwide for the next 38 years. U.S.
Limited Care and Control Efforts in 1918
In 1918, scientists had not yet discovered viruses so there were no laboratory tests to diagnose, detect, or characterize flu viruses. Prevention and treatment methods for flu were limited. There were no vaccines to protect against flu virus infection, no antiviral drugs to treat flu illness, and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections like pneumonia. Efforts to prevent the spread of disease were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), including promotion of good personal hygiene, and implementation of isolation, quarantine, and closures of public settings, such as schools and theaters. Some cities imposed ordinances requiring face masks in public.
even had an ordinance that fined
or jailed people who did not cover their coughs. New York City
For more info see https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/