Looking Back At The 1918 Flu Pandemic, In Photos
Take a glimpse at archival photos of scenes and people living during one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.
This story is part of Science Friday’s coverage on the novel coronavirus, the agent of the disease COVID-19. Listen to experts discuss the spread, outbreak response, and treatment.
The 1918 influenza pandemic is one of the worst global pandemics in human history. Tens of millions of lives were lost to the deadly strain of H1N1 virus. The event changed the state of public health—and some are looking back to help understand the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t think [COVID-19] is a one off, I think it will be a feature of our daily life,” Catharine Arnold, a historian and author of Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History, says in a recent Science Friday interview. “But I don’t think we will suffer the same mortality rate as they did in 1918. We are a bit more prepared now, we have more resources.”
In addition to shifting medical practices, the 1918 flu altered everyday life—with parallels to what many cities throughout the United States are experiencing today. The scenes captured on film show mail clerks, street car conductors, police squads, and first-responders decked out in face masks and protective gear. Take a look at scenes and people living during the 1918 influenza pandemic, from the U.S. National Archives.
The 1918 flu has commonly been called the “Spanish Flu.” But it wasn’t Spanish at all. Listen to the origin of the name in an episode of the new Science Diction podcast!
“It was the poor and the sick who suffered most.”
— Catharine Arnold
“The most successful measures in containing it were almost identical to the ones being used today—and that is quarantine.”
— Catharine Arnold