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Historical Photos Of Spanish Flu Depict The Devastation Caused By The Deadliest Disease In Human History

A century ago, an outbreak of influenza (1918 flu pandemic) spread rapidly across the world and killed between 30 to 50 million people with a one and a half year. The number of patients and dead bodies overwhelmed hospitals, Quarantine centers, and cemeteries. It was first reported in the Madrid daily newspaper ABC.

How Spanish flu spread

Most influenza outbreaks target mostly older people, but the Spanish flu pandemic had the highest mortality rate for young adults, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. To maintain morale, the Great War censors minimized the early reports of illness and mortality in countries like France, Italy, Germany United Kingdom, and the United States. The Spanish media was free to report on it in gory detail. When the virus sickened King Alfonso XIII of Spain and began affecting more people, the nickname was given “Spanish flu.” As World War one was coming to an end, soldiers and people were traveling across the globe, aiding the rapid spread of the disease.

Origins of Spanish flu

Scientists are still unsure about the source of this flu. The first known case was reported at a military base in Kansas on March 11, 1918. Scientists  have conducted several researches and extensive studies to discover the source of this pandemic, but they have yet to find the cause. In 2018, Michael Worobey, a biology professor at the University of Arizona who is examining the history of the 1918 pandemic, revealed that he obtained tissue slides created by William Rolland, a physician who reported on a respiratory illness likely to be the virus while a pathologist in the British military during World War One.

Spanish flu 1918 death toll

The virus mostly affected and killed young adults. It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population was infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be around 50 million. But a reassessment in 2018 figured the total to be about 17 million, though this has been contested. The death toll in India’s British-ruled districts was at least 12 million. China had a death toll of between 1 and 1.28 million. The death toll in Russia was closer to 2%, or 2.7 million people. In the U.S., about 28% of the population was infected, and about 675,000 people died.

Here below are some historical photographs that document the deadliest disease in human history.

#1 A patient wears a flu nozzle, 27th February 1919.

A patient wears a flu nozzle, 27th February 1919.

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#2 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.

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.

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#3 A mask is worn by a street sweeper in New York in 1918. The admonition of the New York Health Board to wear masks to check the spread of influenza epidemic was: ‘Better ridiculous than dead’.

A mask is worn by a street sweeper in New York in 1918. The admonition of the New York Health Board to wear masks to check the spread of influenza epidemic was: ‘Better ridiculous than dead’.

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#4 People waring mask during the pandemics, California, 1918

People waring mask during the pandemics, California, 1918

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#5 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.

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.

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#6 Court is held in the open air in San Francisco in 1918.

Court is held in the open air in San Francisco in 1918.

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#7 A Kansas hospital during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 that still lives large in people’s imaginations.

A Kansas hospital during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 that still lives large in people’s imaginations.

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#8 A conductor checks to see if potential passengers are wearing required masks in Seattle, 1918.

A conductor checks to see if potential passengers are wearing required masks in Seattle, 1918.

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#9 Masks and cloths of all persuasions were worn to help protect the wearer from the killer virus. It claimed between 20 million to 50 million lives during the outbreak.

Masks and cloths of all persuasions were worn to help protect the wearer from the killer virus. It claimed between 20 million to 50 million lives during the outbreak.

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#10 Red Cross nurses in Washington demonstrate patient care during the outbreak by carrying one on a stretcher into a car.

Red Cross nurses in Washington demonstrate patient care during the outbreak by carrying one on a stretcher into a car.

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#11 While schools were closed during the influenza pandemic, many American children made toys for refugee children overseas.

While schools were closed during the influenza pandemic, many American children made toys for refugee children overseas.

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#12 Hospital beds crammed head to toe at the San Francisco Naval Training Station. They are occupied by soldiers.

Hospital beds crammed head to toe at the San Francisco Naval Training Station. They are occupied by soldiers.

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#13 American Red Cross nurse aiding wounded soldiers at Montmirail, France, May 31, 1918.

American Red Cross nurse aiding wounded soldiers at Montmirail, France, May 31, 1918.

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#14 Red Cross surgeons pick up stretchers to help treat the ill in St Louis during the Spanish flu pandemic.

Red Cross surgeons pick up stretchers to help treat the ill in St Louis during the Spanish flu pandemic.

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#15 Old gymnasium filled with troops returning home from World War One re-used as an emergency Spanish Flu hospital.

Old gymnasium filled with troops returning home from World War One re-used as an emergency Spanish Flu hospital.

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#16 Teachers tend to children sick with Spanish Flu at Collège La Salle in Thetford Mines, Quebec, Canada.

Teachers tend to children sick with Spanish Flu at Collège La Salle in Thetford Mines, Quebec, Canada.

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#17 A newspaper page from over a century ago shows officials in Philadelphia digging a mass grave to bury their dead

A newspaper page from over a century ago shows officials in Philadelphia digging a mass grave to bury their dead

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#18 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.

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.

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#19 Two women speak through flu masks during the epidemic, 1918.

Two women speak through flu masks during the epidemic, 1918.

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#20 A U.S. Red Cross employee wears a face mask in an attempt to help decrease the spread of influenza, 1918

A U.S. Red Cross employee wears a face mask in an attempt to help decrease the spread of influenza, 1918

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#21 Physics class, University of Montana, Missoula, 1919. During the influenza epidemic, classes were held outdoors.

Physics class, University of Montana, Missoula, 1919. During the influenza epidemic, classes were held outdoors.

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#22 Graves of U.S. soldiers who died of influenza in Devon, England, photographed on March 8, 1919.

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.

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#23 Theatres and public spaces were shut down to help prevent the virus spreading in the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918.

Theatres and public spaces were shut down to help prevent the virus spreading in the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918.

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#24 A U.S. Army camp hospital in Aix-Les-Baines France during World War I.

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 mission readiness.

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#25 Combating influenza in Seattle in 1918, workers wearing masks on their faces in a Red Cross room.

Combating influenza in Seattle in 1918, workers wearing masks on their faces in a Red Cross room.

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#26 A nurse protects herself while fetching water, September 13 1918.

A nurse protects herself while fetching water, September 13 1918.

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#27 A typist works while wearing a mask, in New York City, October 16 1918.

A typist works while wearing a mask, in New York City, October 16 1918.

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#28 A man prepares ‘anti-flu’ spray for buses of the London General Omnibus Co. London, March 2, 1920.

A man prepares 'anti-flu' spray for buses of the London General Omnibus Co. London, March 2, 1920.

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#29 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 Francisco, California.

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 Francisco, California.

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#30 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.

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.

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#31 Japanese school girls wear protective masks to guard against the influenza outbreak.

Japanese school girls wear protective masks to guard against the influenza outbreak.

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#32 An emergency hospital set up in Brookline, Massachusetts, to care for influenza cases, photographed in October of 1918.

An emergency hospital set up in Brookline, Massachusetts, to care for influenza cases, photographed in October of 1918.

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#33 Soldiers gargle with salt water to prevent influenza on September 24, 1918, at Camp Dix, New Jersey.

Soldiers gargle with salt water to prevent influenza on September 24, 1918, at Camp Dix, New Jersey.

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#34 A scene in the influenza camp at Lawrence, Maine, where patients are given fresh air treatment.

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.

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#35 British Red Cross nurses close to the front line in Flanders, wearing their gas masks, against the threat of German gas attacks.

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.

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#36 American nurses carrying gas masks walk through a trench in France, 1918.

American nurses carrying gas masks walk through a trench in France, 1918.

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#37 Red Cross nurses and a patient at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, DC, 1918.

Red Cross nurses and a patient at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, DC, 1918.

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#38 Nurses care for victims of the Spanish flu epidemic in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1918.

Nurses care for victims of the Spanish flu epidemic in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1918.

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#39 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.

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.

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#40 In Sydney, Australia, nurses leave Blackfriars Depot in Chippenedale during the flu epidemic in April of 1919.

In Sydney, Australia, nurses leave Blackfriars Depot in Chippenedale during the flu epidemic in April of 1919.

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#41 People arrive at a quarantine camp in Wallangarra, Australia, during the influenza epidemic of 1919.

People arrive at a quarantine camp in Wallangarra, Australia, during the influenza epidemic of 1919.

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#42 A health warning about influenza from the Anti-Tuberculosis League, posted on the inside of a public transport vehicle.

A health warning about influenza from the Anti-Tuberculosis League, posted on the inside of a public transport vehicle.

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#43 Doctors and nurses treat soldiers returning home from the front lines of World War One, where the virus began to spread.

Doctors and nurses treat soldiers returning home from the front lines of World War One, where the virus began to spread.

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#44 An American policeman wears a ‘flu mask’ to protect himself from the Spanish flu outbreak that followed World War I, 1918

An American policeman wears a 'flu mask' to protect himself from the Spanish flu outbreak that followed World War I, 1918

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#45 Unident baseball players, one batting and one catching, plus an umpire behind the plate, wear flu masks, 1918.

Unident baseball players, one batting and one catching, plus an umpire behind the plate, wear flu masks, 1918.

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#46 A U.S. Red Cross employee wears a face mask in an attempt to help decrease the spread of influenza, 1918

A U.S. Red Cross employee wears a face mask in an attempt to help decrease the spread of influenza, 1918

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#47 Seattle policemen wear protective gauze face masks during the influenza epidemic, 1918.

Seattle policemen wear protective gauze face masks during the influenza epidemic, 1918.

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#48 Poster of Red Cross nurse with a gauze mask over her nose and mouth, published by the Illustrated Current News (New Haven, Connecticut) in October 1918, the height of the influenza pandemic.

Poster of Red Cross nurse with a gauze mask over her nose and mouth, published by the Illustrated Current News (New Haven, Connecticut) in October 1918, the height of the influenza pandemic.

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#49 Combating influenza in Seattle in 1918, workers wearing masks on their faces in a Red Cross room.

Combating influenza in Seattle in 1918, workers wearing masks on their faces in a Red Cross room.

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#50 Red Cross Motor Corps members on duty during the influenza epidemic in the United States, in St. Louis, Missouri, in October of 1918.

Red Cross Motor Corps members on duty during the influenza epidemic in the United States, in St. Louis, Missouri, in October of 1918.

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#51 Convalescing influenza patients, isolated due to an overcrowded hospital, stay at the U.S. Army’s Eberts Field facilities in Lonoke, Arkansas, in 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.

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#52 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 nurse takes the pulse of a patient in the influenza ward of the Walter Reed hospital in Washington, D.C., in November of 1918.

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#53 A telephone operator wears protective gauze in 1918.

A telephone operator wears protective gauze in 1918.

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#54 Recovering soldiers watch a motion picture show wearing flu masks at U.S. Army Hospital Number 30 in Royat, France.

Recovering soldiers watch a motion picture show wearing flu masks at U.S. Army Hospital Number 30 in Royat, France.

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#55 An American soldier has his throat sprayed to prevent influenza in December of 1918 at Love Field in Dallas, Texas.

An American soldier has his throat sprayed to prevent influenza in December of 1918 at Love Field in Dallas, Texas.

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#56 Volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tend to influenza patients in the Oakland Municipal Auditorium, used as a temporary hospital in 1918.

Volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tend to influenza patients in the Oakland Municipal Auditorium, used as a temporary hospital in 1918.

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#57 Nurses in Boston hospitals are equipped with masks to fight influenza in the spring of 1919

Nurses in Boston hospitals are equipped with masks to fight influenza in the spring of 1919

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#58 Serbian soldiers are treated for influenza on February 5, 1919, in Rotterdam, Netherlands, at the auxiliary hospital for Serbians and Portuguese.

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. Đurković with a member of the medical staff.

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#59 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

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

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Written by Aurora Hale

I am a blogger, entrepreneur and small business coach. I'm an introvert and cat lover. My favourite hobbies are breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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