At the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, D.C., volunteers demonstrate how to deal with the influenza epidemic sweeping the nation.

Photograph courtesy the Library of Congress
  • On March 11, 1918, a young Army private in Fort Riley, Kansas, was diagnosed with one of the first reported cases of Spanish influenza. Between 1918 and 1919, more people died from this disease than from fighting in World War I. Between 50 million and 100 million people died of the flu.

    The flu outbreak was one of the worst pandemics of the 20th century. A pandemic refers to a disease that has infected many people across a large region. During a pandemic, even those who aren’t sick cannot live normal lives. During the 1918 flu pandemic, for example, stores could not have sales, for fear of attracting large crowds and increasing the risk of spreading the disease. Travelers could not even get on trains without a signed certificate from a doctor.

    By 1920, the deadliest strain of influenza disappeared. Today, other strains of influenza, such as bird flu, have caused minor outbreaks and resulted in dozens of deaths, but cannot be called pandemics.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    certificate Noun

    document that serves as legal evidence or proof of something.

    diagnose Verb

    to identify a disease or problem.

    disease Noun

    harmful condition of a body part or organ.

    infect Verb

    to contaminate with a disease or disease-causing organism.

    influenza Noun

    contagious disease, characterized by fever, exhaustion, and difficulty breathing. Also called the flu.

    pandemic Noun

    disease spread quickly throughout a wide geographic area.

    strain Verb

    to stretch beyond a reasonable or safe limit.

    World War I Noun

    (1914-1918) armed conflict between the Allies (led by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France) and the Central Powers (led by Germany and Austria-Hungary). Also called the Great War.