Between 1918 and 1919, an outbreak of influenza spread rapidly across the world, and
killed more than 50 million—and possibly as many as 100 million—people within 15 months.
The speed of the pandemic was shocking; the numbers of dead bodies overwhelmed hospitals
and cemeteries. Quarantine centers, emergency hospitals, public use of gauze masks, and
awareness campaigns were all undertaken swiftly to halt the spread. But as World War I was
coming to a close, millions of soldiers were still traveling across the globe, aiding the
spread of the disease.
The flu was first observed in Europe, the US and parts of Asia before it quickly spread
throughout the world. It was wrongly named the Spanish flu because it was first reported
in the Madrid daily newspaper ABC. However, modern scientists now believe the virus could
have started in Kansas, US. In 1918, there was no vaccination to protect against flu. It
was later discovered that in many victims the vicious virus had invaded their lungs and
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
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
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
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
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
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.