It was the most famous and deadliest epidemic in the world’s history. Between 20 and 50 million people died from the 1918 influenza, or about 1.1 to 2.8 percent of the world’s population.
Some people think the epidemic started in a military camp in the U.S., in Kansas, and troops brought it over to Europe. But it was called the Spanish flu because Spain was the first country to report serious attacks of the illness. It soon spread all over the world.
Most flus kill only about 0.1 percent of the people they infect, but this one was deadlier — it killed more than 2.5 percent of infected people. What made it so deadly? Scientists still don’t know, but it was very infectious and its symptoms were incredibly severe. Unlike other flus, which tend to kill very young and very old people, the 1918 flu killed many people aged 20 to 40.
Public meetings were canceled to prevent people from gathering and spreading the flu virus. Hockey’s Stanley Cup final has only ever been canceled once, and that was in 1919 when too many of the players came down with the Spanish flu for the teams to play.
Doctors hope to learn more as they analyze samples of old, infected tissue and study its DNA. They want to prevent similar deadly outbreaks in the future.