Influenza Pandemic of 1918


In 1918, the Public Health Service had just begun to require state and local health departments to provide them with reports about diseases in their communities. The problem? Influenza wasn't a reportable disease.

But in early March of 1918, officials in Haskell County in Kansas sent a worrisome report to the Public Health Service. Although these officials knew that influenza was not a reportable disease, they wanted the federal government to know that "18 cases of influenza of a severe type" had been reported there.

By May, reports of severe influenza trickled in from Europe. Young soldiers, men in the prime of life, were becoming ill in large numbers. Most of these men recovered quickly but some developed a secondary pneumonia of "a most virulent and deadly type."

Within two months, influenza had spread from the military to the civilian population in Europe. From there, the disease spread outward-to Asia, Africa, South America and, back again, to North America.

Wave After Wave

In late August, the influenza virus probably mutated again and epidemics now erupted in three port cities: Freetown, Sierra Leone; Brest, France, and Boston, Massachusetts.

In Boston, dockworkers at Commonwealth Pier reported sick in massive numbers during the last week in August. Suffering from fevers as high as 105 degrees, these workers had severe muscle and joint pains. For most of these men, recovery quickly followed. But 5 to 10% of these patients developed severe and massive pneumonia. Death often followed.

Public health experts had little time to register their shock at the severity of this outbreak. Within days, the disease had spread outward to the city of Boston itself. By mid-September, the epidemic had spread even further with states as far away as California, North Dakota, Florida and Texas reporting severe epidemics.

The pandemic of 1918-1919 occurred in three waves. The first wave had occurred when mild influenza erupted in the late spring and summer of 1918. The second wave occurred with an outbreak of severe influenza in the fall of 1918 and the final wave occurred in the spring of 1919.

The Legacy of the Pandemic

No one knows exactly how many people died during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. During the 1920s, researchers estimated that 21 and half million people died as a result of the 1918-1919 pandemic. More recent estimates have estimated global mortality from the 1918-1919 pandemic at anywhere between 30 and 50 million. An estimated 675000 Americans were among the dead. - US Department of Health and Human Services



Y/M/D Description Place
1918/03/00 Haskell County public health officials report "18 cases of influenza of a severe type" to the US Federal Public Health Service. Haskell County,
1918/03/11 Company cook Albert Gitchell reports to the Camp Funston infirmary with symptoms of a bad cold. By noon, over 100 patients would report to camp surgeon Edward R Schreiner. Fort Riley, Kansas
1918/07/00 Mabel Pryde Nicholson, wife of William Nicholson, dies of the Spanish Flu.
1918/09/00 Aboard the USS Leviathan, close to one-sixth of the men onboard contract influenza, claiming almost 2,000 lives. After docking in America, a severely weakened FDR is carried off the ship on a stretcher and transported via ambulance to his mother's home.
1918/09/14 PM Lloyd George is suffering from a high temperature. Last night it was announced his condition was satisfactory. Latest advice says he is attacked by influenza, now has a high temperature. All appointments for his tour have been cancelled.
1918/10/00 Franklin D Roosevelt recuperates from influenza at his mother's home in New York. Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House, New York City
1918/10/00 Born in Seattle, Washington, to Martha Therese Preston and Roy Winfield McCarthy, Mary McCarthy is orphaned at the age of six when both her parents died within a day of each other during the flu epidemic of 1918. Seattle, Washington
1918/10/00 Ferrari is almost killed by the 1918 flu pandemic and is consequently discharged from Italian military.
1918/10/00 Dr Bosworth heads a temporary hospital in Waldo Hall to treat influenza patients, only 4 of his 785 patients died Waldo Hall, Corvallis, OR
1918/10/00 In the fall, Katherine Anne Porter and a young army lieutenant are both stricken with influenza in Denver, Colorado.
1918/10/08 US Navy Ensign James L Clements, son of William L Clements, dies of influenza in France. He was buried at Suresnes American Cemetery, Suresnes, France
1918/10/16 Helen Dow Hale dies very suddenly of influenza in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Michigan.
1918/11/00 Eisenhower puts the death toll from the flu at 175. Victims include nurse Lydia Miller and Pvt Boyd F Shriver. "There were no coffins. We had no place to put the bodies except in a storage tent until they could gradually be taken care of more suitably."
1918/11/07 David Williams dies of Spanish influenza
1918/11/09 Guillaume Apollinaire dies in Paris from influenza, buried in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
1919/01/23 Harry Stephen Harkness dies of influenza at his home, 270 Park Avenue (lost) in New York City. He was 38 years old.
1919/02/05 Harvey Swarthout dies in the influenza epidemic at the young age of 35. He is buried in Manistee, Michigan.
1919/03/00 In early 1919, Dashiell Hammett takes ill with influenza, complicated by bronchial pneumonia.
1919/03/09 Minnie May Boldman, daughter of Stephen A Boldman and Blanche Porter Boldman, dies during the influenza pandemic. She is buried in Pioneer Memorial Cemetery, Dayton, Washington. The Boldman House Museum, Dayton, Dayton, WA
1919/04/00 Barely able to talk or stand upright, US President Wilson is confined to bed by the flu. "It is a time when an hour lost means the loss of millions of hours to these individuals who are awaiting to begin reconstruction." The Washington Post
1919/04/05 "President Suffers from Cold and Fever: Complete Rest Ordered, is Not Stricken with Influenza Says Dr Grayson," The Washington Post, April 5, 1919
1919/04/13 Phoebe Hearst dies, victim of the Spanish Flu
1919/04/14 These past two weeks have certainly been strenuous days for me. The President was suddenly taken violently sick with the influenza at a time when the whole of civilization seemed to be in the balance. - Cary Grayson, letter to Sam Ross

Data »

Disease: Epidemics
Infectious Disease: Influenza

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