Looking back: 100 years since the world’s deadliest pandemic


WATCH: 2018 marks the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War. Twenty million died fighting in the trenches, a number unfathomable to most. But lurking behind the trenches was something even deadlier: the Spanish Flu. As Kori Sidaway tells us, the sinister disease killed nearly five times more than the trenches did and helps us take a look back at that history here in Victoria. 

It’s the fall of 1918 and the world’s been at war for four brutal years.

But lurking behind the fighting was an even bigger threat.

“Of course the trenches of World War One were just the perfect place for a pandemic,” said UVic History Professor John Lutz.

“Dirt, lack of hygiene and crowding.”

Known as the plague of the 20th Century, the Spanish Flu took hold in the trenches and spread like wildfire across the globe by soldiers returning home from the First World War.

Here in Victoria, the flu and it’s insidious companion pneumonia, arrived full tilt in the fall of 1918.

“Looking at the Times Colonist on October 6th, the mayor is encouraging people to get out to a public event,” said Lutz.

“And on October 8th a hundred people are sick with the flu. It happened that fast.”

Schools, churches, and businesses all closed up shop.

But a month later on the front lines, the guns finally fell silent.

People flooded out of quarantine to celebrate armistice, not knowing the flu was capable of far more destruction than the war.

“Imagine fighting four years of trench warfare, then catching the flu when you come home,” said Lutz.

In Victoria’s Ross Bay Cemetery, there are rows of soldiers graves of those that didn’t die on the front lines, but in tragic irony, came home only to fall victim to the deadly Spanish flu.

“In most disease epidemics it’s the very young who haven’t got a good immune system and the very old who have a compromised immune system who are usually affected,” said Lutz.

“But in this particular flu, it seemed to provoke a hyperactive immune response in young people.”

Over 250 people in the Greater Victoria area died from the Spanish Flu from 1918 to 1920, most were in the prime of their life.

One hundred million died worldwide, five times more than the First World War and the Second World War combined.

Since the Spanish Flu, there’s been no pandemic that’s reached that level of destruction.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this series on Monday, where we’ll ask the question, could it happen again?

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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