1918-1919 Influenza Outbreak

By Shonushka Sawant | Web Editor


The influenza pandemic of 1918 infected 500 million people worldwide and killed 20 million to 50 million people. Over a fourth of the United States population fell ill, including Woodrow Wilson, who was the President of the United States at the time. The illness even interrupted the drafting of the treaty of Versailles. The disease first emerged in central Asia, western Europe, and the United States, then began a quick and deadly course around the world.

The pandemic was the first outbreak of the H1NI virus, which would resurface 91 years later in the influenza pandemic of 2009. One of the reasons the disease was (and remains) so deadly is that it unleashes a cytokine storm, smothering the body in its immune response. The lungs release excess phlegm, leading to pneumonia, the main reason for death.

Soon after the 1918 pandemic broke out, it won the name of “Spanish flu.”  Nations involved in the war kept news coverage of the disease at a minimum so as not to lower moral, but neutral nations, such as Spain, did not minimize coverage. Therefore, the illness received the most coverage in Spain, giving the impression that Spain was hit hardest. This earned the disease the pseudonym that still persists to this day.