The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 | The Invisible Enemy
There is still no explanation for how or where this particular influenza virus originated. In the same week that it crossed the Atlantic to begin its North American tour, it also turned up in Brest, France, and Freetown, Sierra Leone. Here in the United States, the disease first established itself in military installations, where large, mobile populations, housed in overcrowded facilities, provided perfect breeding grounds for an infectious disease. Then it moved in on the nearby civilian populations. In time Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco fell victims like Boston, the first and among the hardest hit cities in the country.
During the last four months of 1918 more than 22,000 people died from influenza and pneumonia in Massachusetts, 4,088 of them in Boston. The normal death rate due to influenza should have been 1,800 for the state, 500 for the city. U.S. Public Health Service statistics are equally staggering: during 1918-1919, over 25 million people, more than one-quarter of the nation’s population, had the flu. But this is surely a conservative figure — medical record keeping then was not the sophisticated craft it is today.
Before the flu passed, 548,000 people died of it in this country, 20 million worldwide — more than died in the Great War.