Daily Picture Show

Looking Back At The Flu

The onslaught of an influenza pandemic is not unfamiliar news. Between 1918 and 1919, nearly 30 million people died from what became known as the Spanish flu. As mysterious then as it is now, the flu had unknown origins, but its impact was worldwide. Here's a historical look at the breadth of this indifferent and unpredictable virus.

  • Hide caption
    During the 1918 flu pandemic, prayers were issued on the steps of the Holy Cross Church in Fresno, Calif., to ward off the virus.
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    The flu mask, sported here by an American policeman, was worn for protection against the outbreak of the Spanish flu following World War I. It is still used today.
    Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    In 1919, a woman wears what was most likely considered the "flu mask of the future" — a contraption bizarrely elephantine in appearance — so comfortable you can read while wearing it!
    Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    The masks became something of a fashion statement, as demonstrated by these comfortably clothed women, still determined to have a chat despite their covered mouths.
    Photo by Keystone/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    As mysterious then as it is now, the flu's origins were unknowable, its course unstoppable. But it was commonly believed that routine gargling was one of the best ways to ward off the virus.
    Fox Photos/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Years later, in the late 1930s, gargling was still the best solution — even overseas. In England, a miner has an anti-flu gargle after work, heeding the notice above.
    Fox Photos/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    In 1938, nursery school children in Swansea, Wales, appear to have missed the point of gargling, as they empty their cups.
    Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    This undated image shows the H5N1 or "bird flu" virus as seen through a microscope. Many uncanny similarities connect the modern avian flu to the pandemic of 1918, notably that they both originated in birds.
    AFP/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    In 1967, Chinese Red Guards wear anti-flu masks as ordered by Chairman Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution. The reach of influenza is both global and timeless and, at least for now, completely unpredictable.
    Ian Brodie/Express/Getty Images

1 of 9

View slideshow i

For full screen, click on the four-cornered arrow icon in the viewer's bottom right.

From the Spanish flu to the avian flu to, yes, the pig flu, the virus continues to elude us, and the timeless solutions of praying, gargling and mask-wearing are still probably our best bets. To learn more, read about the 1918 pandemic here.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.