Historical Photos of the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic

british redcross nurses
British Red Cross nurses close to the front line in Flanders, wearing their gas masks, against the threat of German gas attacks.  (Bentley Archive / Getty Images)

As WWI came to a close, approximately 50 million people died from the Spanish flu pandemic which swept across the world from 1918-1920. The Spanish flu pandemic is one of the deadliest in history and infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population— it claimed an estimated 20 million to 50 million lives or about 6 percent of the Earth’s population in just over a year.

The speed of the pandemic was never before seen in history. The number of those infected and dead bodies overwhelmed hospitals and cemeteries. Preventive measures such as emergency hospitals, quarantine centers, public use of gauze masks, and awareness campaigns were all employed to stop the spread. However, as World War I just came to a close, millions of soldiers were still traveling across the globe, aiding the spread of the disease.

The flu was first observed in Europe, the US and parts of Asia before it quickly spread throughout the world. It was wrongly named the "Spanish flu" or "Spanish lady" because it was first reported in the Madrid daily newspaper ABC. However, modern scientists now believe the virus could have started in Kansas, US, although there is also evidence to suggests that it could have originated in China, Britain or France. In 1918, there was no vaccination to protect against the flu. It was later discovered that in many victims the vicious virus had invaded their lungs and caused pneumonia.

Compiled here are images from the time when the Spanish Flu Pandemic was rapidly spreading across the globe.

Luneta Manila
Infection of the Spanish Flu in Manila was first observed among longshoremen working on Manila's ports. Narratives of the times in the Philippines describe it as the trancazo.
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influenza victims fort riley
Influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas in 1918. (National Museum of Health / AP)
influenza pandemic- child holds a toy
While schools were closed during the influenza pandemic, many American children made toys for refugee children overseas. (National Archives)

influenza outbreak japan
Japanese schoolgirls wear protective masks to guard against the influenza outbreak. (Bettmann / Bettmann Archive)
    weird facemask
    People in England wearing a different kind of mask, 1932.

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no social distancing amid Spanish flu pandemic
The Liberty Loan Parade in Philadelphia, attended by about 200,000 people, contributed to the widespread outbreak of the Spanish flu in that city. (Everett Collection)

gargle with saltwater
Soldiers gargle salt water to prevent infection, 1918. PhotoQuest/GettyImages
    influenza machine
    A woman wears a nozzle attached to a machine. There is little information regarding how the machine work or whether it is effective.

    people wearing mask 1918
    People in London wear a mask to avoid the flu, 1932.

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    spanish flu
    The 1918 Spanish flu killed up to 50 million people around the world and has been called “the mother of all pandemics."

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