The influenza pandemic, from March 1918 to June 1920, killed between twenty and a hundred million people. In the United States alone it infected around 30 per cent of the population and 500,000 to 675,000 died. Britain lost close to 250,000. For countries already decimated by World War One the impact was devastating. In a single year influenza killed more people than during a century of the Black Death. In twenty weeks it killed more than AIDS has killed in twenty years.
Physicians normally expect influenza to affect the young, the old and the sick, i.e. those with weak or compromised immune systems. The 1918 outbreak, however, killed adults in their prime, age 20-40. Their immune systems went into overdrive and caused them to drown from cykotene shock. They were literally assassinated by their own immune systems.
Struggle for Air
A physician stationed at Fort Devens outside Boston, reported in late September, 1918:
“This epidemic started about four weeks ago, and has developed so rapidly that the camp is demoralized and all ordinary work is held up till it has passed….These men start with what appears to be an ordinary attack of LaGrippe or Influenza, and when brought to the Hosp. they very rapidly develop the most viscous type of Pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the Mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the Cyanosis extending from their ears and spreading all over the face, until it is hard to distinguish the coloured men from the white. It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes, and it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate. It is horrible. One can stand it to see one, two or twenty men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies sort of gets on your nerves. We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day, and still keeping it up. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a new mixed infection here, but what I don’t know.” Source
Evidence has emerged that bacterial pneumonia caused many deaths. The virus, or the body’s immune system response to it, destroyed cells which line the bronchial tubes and lungs, creating a pathway along which nose and throat bacteria could migrate. This suggests that a similar strain today would be less deadly owing to the presence of antibiotics. Source
16m Deaths in India
India suffered most. With large numbers of doctors serving in the British army on the Western Front the country was completely unprepared for the virus. Some estimates put the Indian death toll at sixteen million.