Over one hundred years ago, a world recovering from a global war that had killed some 20 million people suddenly had to contend with something even more deadly: a flu outbreak.
The pandemic, which became known as Spanish flu, is thought to have begun in cramped and crowded army training camps on the Western Front.
Between 1918 and 1919, the outbreak spread rapidly across the world, and killed 50 million and 100million 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.
While its exact origins are still debated, it’s understood that the “Spanish Flu” did not come from Spain.
The first strain of the flu was originally called “the three-day fever” and was typically described as a heavy cold. Although the flu spread around the world in just a few weeks, it seemed to have died down by the end of the summer.
But a new strain of the flu virus emerged in the fall, and this time it was significantly more dangerous. The virus took the world by storm, killing victims in just a couple of days.
“By the first week of September, an average of 100 people died per day at an army camp in Massachusetts. “We have lost an outrageous number of Nurses and Drs., and the little town of Ayer is a sight,” wrote one of the camp’s doctors.
Warehouses were converted to keep infected quarantined people suffering from the influenza pandemic.