resources for educators

The Portal to Texas History

History Snapshots

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919

 Images of Red Cross staff making masksLibrary of Congress

During the fall of 1918 and winter of 1919, the world was rocked by an epidemic of influenza known as the Spanish Flu. This strain was exceptionally lethal.  During World War I, 5,170 Texans died while in the armed services, more than a third of these deaths occurred as a result of influenza. 

While precise information on the mortality rate is impossible to establish, it is estimated that twenty-five million Americans were infected, which at the time was twenty-eight percent of the United States population. An estimated 675,000 to 850,000 died from the disease. The worldwide death toll was estimated between 20 - 40 million people. 

The millions of soldiers deployed for World War I facilitated the quick spread of influenza as they were demobilized and transported home. 
It should be noted that in the early twentieth century, many antibiotics and antiviral medications, such as penicillin, had not yet been discovered which limited the treatment capabilities of medical doctors. Alexander Fleming published his research on Penicillium notatum in 1929 which generated little interest.  It was not until 1941 when Ernst Chain, with the support of Oxford’s Howard Florey, after years of research developed penicillin into an effective vaccine.  

For additional resources, consult:

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918

The Navy Department Library: “The Pandemic of Influenza in 1918-1919”

National Archives and Records and Records Administration: The Deadly Virus The Influenza Epidemic 1918.