Credit: Apic/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Historical Insights 1918 Flu Pandemic

During the pandemic, 25 percent of the U.S. population fell ill, and 675,000 Americans died. The healthy did their part to aid the sick—many joined the Red Cross and were trained as nurses. 1918. Credit: Apic/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1918 Flu Pandemic

The flu pandemic of 1918 hit six of the seven continents, infecting 500 million people in almost every corner of the globe.

In 1918, a flu pandemic swept the world, taking the lives of nearly 50 million people, making it one of the world's deadliest natural disasters. It is no coincidence the outbreak coincided with World War I—millions of soldiers living in cramped conditions throughout the far reaches of the globe sped up transmission of the virus. Unlike most other influenza outbreaks, this virus particularly affected the young and healthy, leaving a workforce already compromised by the war even further shrunken. In an effort to maintain morale, the Allied Powers, including the United States, tried to hide the flu's devastating effects from its citizens. The press, however, was free to report the damage in countries that had remained neutral in the war, like Spain. Because accounts of infection and death tolls were limited, many came to believe that Spaniards were hit especially hard by the flu, which is why the illness today is commonly known as the Spanish flu.