22 Pictures Show What The 1918 Flu Pandemic Really Looked Like

By 1919, approximately one-third of the world’s population had been infected with a deadly strain of influenza.

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Left: A police officer wears a flu mask to protect himself from the outbreak of Spanish flu on Nov. 14, 1918. Right: A member of the Red Cross wears a flu mask, circa 1918.

In 1918, at the height of World War I, a deadly strain of the influenza virus was spreading across the planet. After running its course, approximately one-third of the Earth’s population had been infected and some 50 million people had died from the virus worldwide. According to the CDC, the pandemic was so severe that it actually lowered US life expectancy by about 12 years, with men living an average age of 36.6 years and women approximately 42.2 years.

Today, this pandemic is known as the Spanish flu, though this name is entirely misleading. Because many of the soldiers fighting during WWI were often malnourished, injured, and living within close quarters, they were some of the most susceptible to this deadly strain of influenza. Government censors in Germany, UK, and the US sought to suppress the actual number of deceased in an effort to maintain morale back home. Because of this, the only country that was accurately reporting on the pandemic was neutral Spain, which gave the false impression that Spain was hit hardest by the pandemic. It is estimated that nearly one-half of US casualties during WWI were a result of the Spanish flu.

These pictures show what life was like at the height of this deadly pandemic.

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The Oakland Municipal Auditorium is used as a temporary hospital with volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross, 1918.

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Left: Flyer from the Illinois State Board of Health titled “Ignorance Is More Destructive Than the War.” Right: An advertisement warning about influenza in Chicago, circa 1920.

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Japanese schoolgirls wear protective masks to guard against the influenza outbreak, Feb. 17, 1920.

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A woman wears a flu mask during the Spanish flu epidemic Feb. 27, 1919.

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Left: X-ray of hemorrhagic pneumonitis as seen in the 1918 influenza strain. Right: This negative-stained transmission electron microscopic image shows the 1918 influenza virions.

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A health warning about influenza from the Anti-Tuberculosis League, posted on the inside of a public transport vehicle, 1918–20.

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A UK man sprays the top of a bus with an anti-flu gas March 2, 1920.

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Left: A US soldier is treated at an Army hospital in Fort Porter, New York, 1918. Right: Red Cross workers of Boston remove bundles of masks designated for American soldiers, while other nurses are busy making them, 1919.

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

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Baseball players at the height of the Spanish flu, 1918.

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Seattle police officers wear protective gauze face masks, 1918.

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Left: An elevator operator in New York City wearing a flu mask, 1918. Right: A New York city street sweeper wears a flu mask, October 1918.

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Two women wearing flu masks during the flu epidemic, dated 1929.

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

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