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March 18, 2018

Vintage Photos of People Wearing Masks During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, One of the Deadliest Natural Disasters in Human History

At the close of WWI, an estimated 50 million people died from the Spanish flu. Masks were the uninfected’s main line of defense.

The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans.

The 1918 flu was first observed in Europe, the United States and parts of Asia before swiftly spreading around the world. At the time, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat this killer flu strain. Citizens were ordered to wear masks, schools, theaters and businesses were shuttered and bodies piled up in makeshift morgues before the virus ended its deadly global march.

Why “Spanish”? According to Mashable, to read the newspapers of 1918, Spain was hit particularly hard by the virus. On the contrary: 1918 was the last year of World War I and, in an attempt to maintain morale, the United States, Britain, France and Germany suppressed newspaper reports of the illness. Neutral Spain, with no war morale to maintain, did not censor its newspapers; so, to the rest of the world, the flu appeared particularly nasty there.

Two women speak through flu masks during the epidemic, c.1918.

An American policeman wears a 'flu mask' to protect himself from the Spanish flu outbreak that followed World War I, c.1918.

A U.S. Red Cross employee wears a face mask in an attempt to help decrease the spread of influenza, c.1918.

A nurse protects herself while fetching water, September 13 1918.

A typist works while wearing a mask, in New York City, October 16 1918.

A Seattle, Washington streetcar conductor refuses entry to a commuter who is not wearing a mask. Precautions taken in the city required passengers to wear masks on public transportation, December 1918.

A New York city street sweeper wears a mask to help check the spread of influenza, October 1918.

A patient wears a flu nozzle, 27th February 1919.

A patient wears a flu nozzle, 27th February 1919.

Unident baseball players, one batting and one catching, plus an umpire behind the plate, wear flu masks, 1918.

A man prepares 'anti-flu' spray for buses of the London General Omnibus Co. London, March 2, 1920.

A U.S. Red Cross employee wears a face mask in an attempt to help decrease the spread of influenza, 1918.

Seattle policemen wear protective gauze face masks during the influenza epidemic, 1918.

(Photos: Getty Images, via Mashable/Retronaut)


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