Photo: The National Archives
In 1918 the Spanish flu swept the globe, killing at least 50 million people worldwide. That’s over three times as many deaths as in World War I.
In the United States the disease devastated cities, forcing law enforcement to ban public meetings and shut down schools, churches and theatres. At one point Chicago had to stop funerals because they were so numerous and were spreading the disease.
In total, 650,000 Americans died from the Spanish flu, named after disease’s early presence in Spain.
Scientists have now identified the Spanish flu as H1N1, an avian strain of influenza just like the currently feared H5N1. In 2006, the White House released a plan for a world influenza outbreak that suggested that up to two million Americans could die if a flu pandemic occurred.
If you think that number is far fetched, click through the slides and see how the Spanish flu brought the world to its knees not so long ago.
The influenza ward at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas. The first confirmed case of the Spanish flu in the United States occurred at Fort Riley on March 11, 1918. By noon that day, over 100 soldiers had reported in sick. The virus was extremely contagious and was soon being seen across the country.
A flu victim being carried away in St. Louis. In the fall, a new strain of the flu virus emerged, significantly more dangerous than it had been before. The flu took the world by storm, killing victims in just a couple of days.
The symptoms of the Spanish flu were particularly frightening. Beginning with the ears, the victim's face would begin to turn blue as oxygen was deprived. A bloody liquid would begin to fill the victim's lungs until the victim would suffocate and die.
Doctors worked desperately to discover the nature of this strange new disease. They were shocked to discover that it was a variation of influenza.
A Red Cross demonstration in Washington, D.C. as officials attempt to deal with the overwhelming amount of sick that pop up at an horrifying rate across the country and the world. 20-five per cent of Americans would contract the flu during the pandemic and 650,000 would die.
A nurse fetches water, while attempting to protect herself with a medical mask. Much of the time, nurses and doctors were so overwhelmed by all the sick that they didn't have time to do anything for patients except give them some whiskey and attempt to make them comfortable.
The Red Cross gets ready to help in St. Louis in October 1918. It was at this time that the pandemic was at its worst, killing 195,000 Americans in that month alone. The situation became so dire that caskets began to run out and some cities even banned funerals to prevent further spread of the virus.
A New York City mailman makes his rounds during the outbreak, as panicked cities began to require that citizens wear masks to hinder the alarming spread of the virus. New York City was hit particularly bad, with 851 people dying from the flu in one day.
Police in Seattle protect themselves against the virus. Cities were put on lockdown for weeks at a time as local governments closed theatres, schools and churches to stop the flu from spreading.
This NYC typist shows that medical masks weren't just for outdoors either. Authorities advised that masks be worn at all times. Despite the precautions, the flu pandemic lowered the life expectancy by 12 years in the US in just one year.
The Red Cross brings food to a sick African American family in Charlotte, North Carolina. They arrive too late for the mother, who has just died.
American soldiers wear masks as they watch a boxing match aboard the USS Siboney. WWI increased the spread of the virus as soldiers traveled from country to country bringing the flu with them.
The influenza ward of a US hospital in France. American troops brought the flu along with them to Europe infecting British, French and German soldiers alike. 57,000 American troops died because of the Spanish flu, compared to the 53,000 that died in combat during WWI.
While most flu viruses target the young and old, the majority of those who died from the Spanish Flu were between 20 and 40 years old. The strong immune systems of the healthy would overreact in an attempt to fight the virus and end up ravaging the lungs.
Flu sufferers in Tokyo. Every corner of the Earth and every major city was hit by the virus in just a matter of weeks. Between 50 million and 100 million people around the world died from the Spanish flu.
The burial of flu victims in Labrador, Canada. In just a few months the virus had killed more people than any other disease in history.
Even in this remote field in Alberta, these men wear medical masks in fear of the flu. Influenza hit everywhere in 1918, killing 176 Alaska Natives who lived near the Arctic Circle.
A poster warns of the Spanish flu in Alberta. By the end of 1918, the virus began to disappear as quickly as it had come, but it left behind tens of millions of deaths across the world.
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