This year marks the 100th anniversary of the deadliest natural disaster the world has ever seen. A disaster which killed 4% of the world’s population (75 million people) and nearly 675k Americans. This was not a volcano, or meteor, but a microscopic hereto unknown virus which became known as the Spanish Flu.
Though still a topic of debate, most scientists identify the first confirmed outbreak as originating in Kansas. Some books will argue for Haskell County (The Great Influenza by John Barry) and others put it more specifically to Camp Funston at Fort Riley, Kansas (Influenza 1918 by Lynette Lezzoni). Modern transportation, such as the railways served a perfect delivery system. In the first week it had spread from Kansas to Queens and Boston. Troops leaving for Europe took it with them on the boats and trains and around the world.
Unlike the flu we experience today, which is deadlier to infants and the elderly, this flu tended to kill the young and healthy. All previously invented vaccines were useless and medicines could only treat symptoms. During the disease’s height in October tens of thousands of Americans were dying each week. By November the worst had passed and soon the flu epidemic was largely forgotten.