40 Amazing Photos of the 1918 Spanish Flu

Spanish flu, also known as the Great Influenza epidemic or the 1918 influenza pandemic, was an exceptionally deadly global influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. The earliest documented case was March 1918 in Kansas, United States, with further cases recorded in France, Germany and the United Kingdom in April. Two years later, nearly a third of the global population, or an estimated 500 million people, had been infected in four successive waves. Estimates of deaths range from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.

“Spanish flu” is a misnomer. The pandemic broke out near the end of World War I, when wartime censors suppressed bad news in the belligerent countries to maintain morale, but newspapers freely reported the outbreak in neutral Spain, creating a false impression of Spain as the epicenter. Limited historical epidemiological data make the pandemic’s geographic origin indeterminate, with competing hypotheses on the initial spread.

Most influenza outbreaks disproportionately kill the young and old, with a higher survival rate in-between, but this pandemic had unusually high mortality for young adults. Scientists offer several explanations for the high mortality, including a six-year climate anomaly affecting migration of disease vectors with increased likelihood of spread through bodies of water. The virus was particularly deadly because it triggered a cytokine storm, ravaging the stronger immune system of young adults, although the viral infection was apparently no more aggressive than previous influenza strains. Malnourishment, overcrowded medical camps and hospitals, and poor hygiene, exacerbated by the war, promoted bacterial superinfection, killing most of the victims after a typically prolonged death bed.

The 1918 Spanish flu was the first of three flu pandemics caused by H1N1 influenza A virus; the most recent one was the 2009 swine flu pandemic. The 1977 Russian flu was also caused by H1N1 virus. (Wikipedia)

Gathered here are images from the battle against one of the deadliest events in human history, when the flu killed up to 6 percent of the Earth’s population in just over a year.

California, 1918. The 1918 Spanish flu killed up to 50 million people around the world and has been called “the mother of all pandemics”.
A U.S. Army camp hospital in Aix-Les-Baines France during World War I. It is estimated that 20 percent – 40 percent of U.S. soldiers and sailors were ill, primarily from influenza virus, during the height of the war causing tremendous suffering and impacts on mission readiness.
Policemen stand in a street in Seattle, Washington, wearing protective masks made by the Seattle Chapter of the Red Cross, during the influenza epidemic in 1918.
Combating influenza in Seattle in 1918, workers wearing masks on their faces in a Red Cross room.
Corpsmen in caps and gowns ready to attend patients in the influenza ward of the U.S. Naval Hospital on Mare Island, California, on December 10, 1918.
Influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas in 1918.
A typist wears her influenza mask in October of 1918. Worried by the hold that disease had taken in New York City, practically all workers covered their faces in gauze masks as a protection against disease.
Court is held in the open air in San Francisco in 1918.
The congregation prays on the steps of the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, where they gathered to attend mass and pray during the influenza epidemic, in San Francisco, California.
While schools were closed during the influenza pandemic, many American children made toys for refugee children overseas.
The U.S. Army 39th regiment wear masks to prevent influenza in Seattle in December of 1918. The soldiers are on their way to France.
Japanese school girls wear protective masks to guard against the influenza outbreak.
A girl stands next to her sister, who is lying in bed, in November of 1918. The young girl became so worried that she telephoned the Red Cross Home Service, which came to help the woman fight the influenza virus.
Red Cross Motor Corps members on duty during the influenza epidemic in the United States, in St. Louis, Missouri, in October of 1918.
An emergency hospital set up in Brookline, Massachusetts, to care for influenza cases, photographed in October of 1918.
Convalescing influenza patients, isolated due to an overcrowded hospital, stay at the U.S. Army’s Eberts Field facilities in Lonoke, Arkansas, in 1918.
A nurse takes the pulse of a patient in the influenza ward of the Walter Reed hospital in Washington, D.C., in November of 1918.
A telephone operator wears protective gauze in 1918.
Recovering soldiers watch a motion picture show wearing flu masks at U.S. Army Hospital Number 30 in Royat, France.
An American soldier has his throat sprayed to prevent influenza in December of 1918 at Love Field in Dallas, Texas.
Soldiers gargle with salt water to prevent influenza on September 24, 1918, at Camp Dix, New Jersey.
Volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tend to influenza patients in the Oakland Municipal Auditorium, used as a temporary hospital in 1918.
A scene in the influenza camp at Lawrence, Maine, where patients are given fresh air treatment. This extreme measure was hit upon as the best way of curbing the epidemic. Patients are required to live in these camps until cured.
British Red Cross nurses close to the front line in Flanders, wearing their gas masks, against the threat of German gas attacks. Doctors and nurses faced the same realities of war as the soldiers they were treating.
American nurses carrying gas masks walk through a trench in France, 1918.
Red Cross nurses and a patient at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, DC, 1918.
Nurses care for victims of the Spanish flu epidemic in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1918.
Baseball players at the height of the Spanish flu, 1918.
An open-air barber shop. Public events were encouraged to be held outdoors to hinder the spread of the disease during the influenza epidemic. Photographed at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1919.
Physics class, University of Montana, Missoula, 1919. During the influenza epidemic, classes were held outdoors.
In Sydney, Australia, nurses leave Blackfriars Depot in Chippenedale during the flu epidemic in April of 1919.
People arrive at a quarantine camp in Wallangarra, Australia, during the influenza epidemic of 1919.
Nurses in Boston hospitals are equipped with masks to fight influenza in the spring of 1919.
Serbian soldiers are treated for influenza on February 5, 1919, in Rotterdam, Netherlands, at the auxiliary hospital for Serbians and Portuguese. The auxiliary hospital was located in Schoonderloostraat, the building of the Society of St. Aloysius. In the center is Captain Dragoljub N. Ðurkovic with a member of the medical staff.
A woman wears a flu mask during the Spanish flu epidemic Feb. 27, 1919.
Original caption from the National Archives: “February, 1919. U.S. Army at Archangel Front, Russia. Funeral of member of crew of U.S.S. Ascutney. Three members died in Archangel and many were sick with influenza.”
Graves of U.S. soldiers who died of influenza in Devon, England, photographed on March 8, 1919. The graves contain the bodies of 100 American wounded soldiers at Paignton Military Hospital that died from the epidemic of influenza that spread over England.
A health warning about influenza from the Anti-Tuberculosis League, posted on the inside of a public transport vehicle.
A UK man sprays the top of a bus with an anti-flu gas March 2, 1920.
Two women wearing flu masks during the flu epidemic.

One thought on “40 Amazing Photos of the 1918 Spanish Flu

  1. Royce,
    Thank you for these photos. They tell a great deal about the battle over a century ago. The graves and the large wards filled with the sick were evocative. My paternal grandfather was a physician in Detroit when the flu struck. He was fairly elderly (late 50s?0 and respected. Given the fact that much was not known about the flu, there were battles in the medical community about how to care for patients. Sometimes one medical director of a hospital would demand that all the windows be opened, even in cold weather. The next day his colleague would demand that they be closed. Also, there were disputes about how many to put into a ward and what to do with the clothes of patients (burn them?). Today’s fights over masks or no masks, surfaces or sneezes, this drug or that drug, etc., etc., remind me of the fights over 100 years ago.
    All the best,
    –Jim

    Like

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