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    Patients at an Army ward in Kansas during the influenza epidemic of 1918. About 675,000 Americans died of the flu known as "La Grippe."

    NYPL/Science Source/Getty Images

    A hundred years ago, the world was struck by a nightmare scenario.

    World War I was still raging. And then a suspicious disease appeared.

    In the spring of 1918, the first wave of cases weren't all that bad. The death rate was low. But by November, the "mother of all flu pandemics" was spreading explosively across Asia, Europe and North America.

    Known as "La Grippe," the new flu strain killed quickly and at a high rate, especially among soldiers in the war. "The boys were coming in with colds and a headache, and they were dead within two or three days," a French nurse wrote on Nov. 11, 1918, the day of the armistice. "Great big handsome fellows, healthy men, just came in and died. There was no rejoicing in Lille the night of the armistice."

    Studies suggest the fatality rate was 20 times that seen in previous pandemics. Up to 2 percent of the people infected died. In the U.S., it took just five weeks to kill more than 500,000 people. By summer of 1919, a third of the world's population had been infected and at least 40 million people had died about double the deaths caused by World War I. By this point, many people had picked up immunity to the strain, and the pandemic fizzled out.

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