The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I, at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. Known as "Spanish Flu", that outbreak of influenza was a global disaster. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four years of the Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351.
In the fall of 1918, the Great War in Europe was winding down and peace was on the horizon. Then, something erupted that seemed as benign as the common cold. The influenza of that season, however, was far more than a cold. In the two years that this plague ravaged the earth, a fifth of the world's population was infected. The “Spanish flu” was most deadly for people aged 20 to 40. This pattern of morbidity was unusual for influenza, which is usually a killer of the elderly and young children.
It infected 28% of all Americans. An estimated 675,000 Americans died of influenza during the pandemic, ten times as many as in the World War I. Of the U.S. soldiers who died in Europe, half of them fell to the influenza virus and not to the enemy.
People were struck with illness on the street and died rapid deaths. The physicians of the time were helpless against this powerful agent of influenza. A well-known anecdote tells of four women playing bridge together late into the night. Overnight, three of the women died from influenza.