The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed more people
than World War I. It erupted in the fall of 1918, as the
war was winding down, and it infected a fifth of the
world’s population, killing 20-50 million.
More than a quarter of the US population caught the
disease, and some 675,000 died.
In contrast with previous flu infections, it struck hardest
at young adult males 20-40 years of age. Of the U.S.
soldiers who died in Europe, half died of influenza.
People who contracted the disease experienced
extreme fatigue, fever, headache and coughs. They
died struggling to breathe as blood-tinged froth filled
The pandemic circled the globe, striking in North
America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Brazil and the South
Pacific. In India, about 50 people died from influenza
out of each 1,000.
It was called the Spanish Flu, because it was said to
have killed 8 million people in Spain in May.
Actually, the first wave appeared early in the
spring in Kansas and swept through military
camps throughout the country.
The war brought the virus back to the US for a
second wave, arriving at the port of Boston
with shipments of war machinery and
supplies. Every gathering of people became
an occasion for the epidemic to spread.
Entire fleets were ill, and men on the front
were too sick to fight.
The return of military patients created a
shortage of physicians, which was further
impacted by the loss of physicians to the
President Woodrow Wilson caught the flu in
early 1919 while negotiating the treaty of
Versailles to end the war. And people were
infected as they gathered for parades and
parties to celebrate the Armistice.