The 1918 flu pandemic is considered one of the most deadly of all time, and although it has never been completely eradicated, the pandemic came to an end after about two years and three waves of infection.

The “Spanish” flu was first found in U.S. soldiers and popped up in Europe and Asia in March of 1918. It was a form of an avian flu originating in birds. While the first wave was mild, the second was extremely deadly, with nearly 200,000 American deaths in October 1918 alone.

The spread was exacerbated by travel for World War I, and the same public health measures used today, such as masking and social distancing, were implemented to help stop the spread.

However, the flu whipped around the world with such intensity that 500 million people were infected, which accounted for one-third of the global population at the time. Hospitals were overwhelmed, businesses shut down and morgues were overrun with the dead, according to records kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A third wave triggered by the end of WWI started to subside over the summer, and by 1920, the pandemic had ended and moved into an endemic stage, meaning clusters were only found in certain regions and cases spiked seasonally just like the cold and flu does now.

The 1918 pandemic ended due to public health measures and herd immunity that was achieved by the colossal amount of infection.

The 1918 influenza pandemic infected 500 million people and is known as the mother of all pandemics. See below a timeline of how the pandemic unraveled with information collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

* March 1918: Outbreaks of flu-like illness are detected in U.S. soldiers which spreads through Europe and Asia in the next six months, but cases are mild.

* September 1918: A second wave of the flu emerges and is highly fatal.

* October 1918: 195,000 Americans die of the flu in October alone. Businesses are closed, hospitals have staff shortages and masks are worn.

* January 1918: The end of WW1 triggers a third wave which subsides in the summer.

* Early 1920: With one third of the global population having been infected, the pandemic ends and enters an endemic phase. Modern day flu strains still have a footprint of the 1918 flu. – Boston Herald

One-third of the world was infected with the Spanish flu, and eventually, so many people either died from it or had immunity that the disease had nowhere to go.

Unfortunately, coronavirus is nowhere near having sickened one-third of the globe, which would be about 2.6 billion people. Recorded COVID-19 cases currently stand at 268 million.

But the 1918 pandemic never disappeared completely; it continued to survive by becoming less virulent, and today, modern flu strains still contain ancestral links to the pandemic that happened more than 100 years ago.

Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious disease at South Shore Health, said coronavirus will never end either, thanks to its rapid mutations. He said coronavirus will just evolve and hopefully morph into a seasonal illness to which we pay little mind, but it’s still too soon to know if that will happen.

Ellerin said there’s “no prospect” of herd immunity like there was in 1918, but tools like vaccines, boosters and natural immunity will help combat the severity of coronavirus in all its forms.


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