The Great Influenza

The Great Influenza:  the Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John Barry

Flu HospitalThe 1918 Influenza, or Spanish Flu, pandemic was a flu pandemic that spread to nearly every part of the world. Most of the victims of the Spanish flu were healthy young adults, in contrast to most flu outbreaks that affect juvenile, elderly, or otherwise weakened people.  Experts estimate that somewhere between 50 million and 100 million people were killed worldwide, and that at least 500 million people were infected in a two year period. 

It may be responsible for more deaths than the Black Plague.  Victims of the flu turned blue from lack of oxygen, bled from the nose and ears, had fatigue and dizzy spells, suffered terrible pains and ultimately died.  In the United States nearly seven times as many people died of influenza as were killed during the First World War.

In the award winning book The Great Influenza, John Barry has captured the panic and fear that overwhelmed the communities stricken with the flu. He levels an indictment against public authorities who were dishonest and who deliberately tried to minimize the damage and dangers that the flu presented, especially during a war whose affects were also being minimized.  This is an alarming and cautionary tale during a period of extended travel and new influenza viruses.

Flu NurseDespite having the name Spanish flu, the pandemic did not originate in Spain.  The name came from the fact that Spain, a neutral country during the First World War, had no censorship for news about the disease.  So, the most reliable resources for information were from Spain.  The flu was able to reach so far across the globe thanks to increased travel, largely because of the World War. U.S. Navy Nurse Josie Brown described the pandemic after the fact, saying that "the morgues were packed almost to the ceiling with bodies stacked one on top of another. The morticians worked day and night. You could never turn around without seeing a big red truck loaded with caskets for the train station so bodies could be sent home."