1918: The Beginnings of an Epic Event
Historians have debated which country saw the first cases of pandemic influenza in 1918 for years. While it is not clear where the virus first emerged, we now know that this pandemic was caused by an influenza A(H1N1) virus.
Even though the geographical origin of the pandemic is disputed, its devastation is not.
In the U.S., wartime conditions combined with the pathogenicity of the virus caused tremendous number of infections and deaths.
Spreading in U.S. Army Camps
In March 1918, influenza outbreaks occurred in Army training camps scattered throughout the U.S. Signs and symptoms ranged from typical flu-like symptoms we know today such as fever and headaches, to cyanosis–a skin discoloration that results from a lack of oxygen–which occurred in severe cases.
During and after the pandemic, medical illustrators depicted the effects of secondary infections on the body, such as pneumonia, after influenza infection. During the 1918 pandemic, more people died from secondary infections than from influenza infection. Illustrations like this one serve as an historical record of the potential damage that can result from influenza infection.