It is called the Spanish Flu, the Great Influenza, and the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918. It was the greatest pandemic of the 20th century. The Spanish Flu pandemic overlapped with the final months of World War I but killed far more than died in the massive chaos of that war.
The total deaths of the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 range from 50 million to 100 million in less than a year’s time. One-third of the earth’s population was infected. Cities across the world instituted mass graves and burials to aid the overwhelmed morgues where bodies were piled in stacks like cordwood. Unlike other pandemics, the hardest hit demographics were not the elderly but those aged 25-35. More people died of the Great flu Pandemic of 1918 in 24 weeks than died of AIDS in 24 years. The impact of the Spanish was so widespread and devastating that it reduced the average life expectancy of Americans by 12 years.
This is part 5 of our podcast series Plagued: Humanity’s History with Disease, Outbreaks, and Pandemics. JB Shreve, LynnDee Summers, and Jason Lofton tell the story of the Spanish Flu pandemic, where it came from, how it was named, and how the world responded. Lovers of history will enjoy this fascinating story that for some reason is not told nearly enough in most history classes today.