1918 was an "unprecedented" time in human history: World War I was still raging, and a deadly plague was about to unleash itself onto the planet. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic affected almost 500 million people, roughly one-third of the world's population, causing about 50 million deaths within the next two years. It is considered one of the deadliest pandemics ever known to man, second only to the Black Death during the 1300s.
This documentary is a clear and concise breakdown of how one of the greatest human catastrophes of modern history unfolded. The Spanish Flu was caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus, and despite its name, it did not originate in Spain. The earliest reported cases were from March 1918 in a military camp in Fuston, Kansas, home to about 30,000 soldiers busy training for the war effort. On the 4th of March, over 100 soldiers contracted the flu and exhibited the same symptoms, including high fever, body pain, a bad cough and debilitating headaches.
By month's end, over 1000 men would get infected daily, yet military higher-ups were not too concerned because the men recovered quickly. When the soldiers were deployed all over Europe, they were carrying the virus. Many of the ships became floating barges of infection. However, nothing was done to contain the spread because the priority was getting the troops to the front. But with over 100,000 soldiers arriving weekly and mixing with the local populace, Europe, and the world, stood no chance against the Spanish Flu.
As the war raged on, more countries were affected, yet nothing was done to stop the spread. Governments, military authorities and even the media from both sides of the conflict kept quiet, unwilling to let the enemy know how bad it was and to avoid widespread panic from an already stressed-out population. Spain was a neutral country, and the Spanish press finally broke the news of the illness when their King got sick. Hence the name.
The virus raged for another two years after the war ended, mutating with about four to five deadly waves. Hospitals were packed, burials could not keep up with the number of people who died, and healthcare systems were close to imploding. After many months of silence from public health officials, there was a sudden glut of information on preventive measures.
Many countries had their own way of dealing with the spread. Public gatherings were banned, schools, churches and theaters were closed and so on. Wearing masks became mandatory though some would protest that they invaded personal freedoms. Schools encouraged hand washing, and social distancing was enforced. With no real way of treating the flu, many so-called cures crawled out of the woodwork, including aspirin, bourbon, scotch, cognac, quinine, and even laxatives, on top of snake oil and quack treatments.
About 18 to 24 months after the first infections were reported in Kansas, the pandemic finally ended. No vaccines were developed, with most survivals attributed to herd immunity.
Directed by: Paul Le Grouyer