Back to Top Skip to main content

NMHM looks back at the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ for one Maryland county

Black and white image of hospital beds lined up in rows, occupied by sick people Emergency hospital during influenza epidemic, Camp Funston, Kansas. (NCP 1603) (Photo by: NMHM.)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health

The year 1918 proved to be a trying time for people overseas and at home. Still in the midst of World War I, populations were then introduced to another adversary: the “Spanish Flu.” While great medical strides had been made to prevent other deadly diseases, such as smallpox, by the time of the global outbreak of influenza in 1918, the flu virus, or H1N1, had yet to be identified.

The 1918 flu resembled a more severe cold. The symptoms included fever, pains in the head and other body parts, and fatigue. While some patients recovered, others developed more severe and deadly conditions, like pneumonia or meningitis. Perhaps the greatest threat of the 1918 flu was the contagious nature of the virus with approximately one third of the world’s population infected and an estimated 50-100 million global fatalities.

During a virtual “science café” held by the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) last month, NMHM’s Historical Collections Manager Alan Hawk discussed the rapid spread of the 1918 influenza pandemic in a case study on Montgomery County, Maryland.

In 1918, Montgomery County was transitioning from a rural farming community into a suburban area. The county had recently improved its transportation systems connecting railroads and trolley lines to Washington, D.C. for those commuting to work in the city. Less than a month after the first influenza fatality in Washington, D.C., there was an estimated 1,200 cases of influenza in Montgomery County; most cases were within five miles of the railroad or trolley lines.

As we know today, the influenza virus is easily transmitted between those in close proximity to each other, up to about six feet, making the crowded trolleys and trains a prime place for spreading the flu in 1918. This was particularly damaging to the U.S. military, as traveling military personnel often shared cramped quarters in barracks, trains, and trenches.

The devastating impact of the flu in Montgomery County and the surrounding areas drove public health officials to require the adornment of gauze masks in public, and locals to cancel events with large gatherings of people.

While a vaccine wouldn’t be developed for a few more decades, military laboratories and civilian scientists worked tirelessly in 1918 to discover the agent that caused the flu. Autopsies were performed and samples of lung tissue were forwarded to the Army Medical Museum (now NMHM) for further study and preservation. 

Along with the tissue specimens, the museum collected archival and historical materials – for example, photographs showing influenza wards like Camp Funston, Kansas, a possible ground zero for the virus in America, and medical equipment – to illustrate the devastating impact of the 1918 pandemic and the military’s medical response. 

These materials aid today’s researchers in parsing history and understanding the nature of the 1918 flu in comparison to current strains or other viruses. A virtual exhibit shows how DoD scientists used a sample of lung tissue to recreate the genetic sequence of the 1918 virus, and a new teacher’s guide compares the 1918 influenza to COVID-19. Perhaps future studies can help us identify key characteristics of the 1918 influenza pandemic and why it was so deadly.

For those interested in accessing the collections for research, visit the museum’s website.

You also may be interested in...

MSMR Vol. 5 No. 1 – January/February 1999

Report
1/1/1999

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Malaria, U.S. Army, 1998; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, January 1999; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, January 1999; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; Mortality trends, active duty military, 1990 – 1997; ARD surveillance update; All reportable conditions, 1998; Sentinel reportable diseases, 1998 (vs. 1997); Sentinel reportable STDs, 1998 (vs. 1997); Active duty force strength, September 1998; Supplement #1 reportable diseases.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 5 No. 3 – April 1999

Report
1/1/1999

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Editorial; Hospitalization Trends, U.S. Army, 1998; Selected sentinel reportable events, March 1999; Selected sentinel reportable events, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, March 1999; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; Active duty hospitalizations; Active duty hospitalization rates; Hospitalization-related lost duty days; Hospitalization-related lost duty rates; Ambulatory trends, U.S. Army, 1998; ARD surveillance update; Active duty ambulatory visits; Active duty ambulatory rates; Reportable events, 1998; All reportable events, 1998; Sentinel reportable events, 1998 (vs. 1997); Sentinel reportable STD's, 1998 (vs. 1997); Force strength (December 1998); Supplement #1: Hospitalization summary, 1998; Supplement #2: Ambulatory summary, 1998; Supplement #3: Reportable events summary, 1998.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 5 No. 2 – March 1999

Report
1/1/1999

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Overhydration/hyponatremia, recent trends, U.S. Army; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, February 1999; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, February 1999; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; Field study, ARD, U.S. Army trainees, Fort Jackson, SC; ARD surveillance update Correction: Mortality trends, active duty military, 1990-1997.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 5 No. 8 – December 1999

Report
1/1/1999

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Malaria experience among U.S. active duty soldiers 1997-1999; Sentinel reportable events by reporting facility; Sentinel reportable events, active duty soldiers; Incidence of diabetes mellitus among active duty service members, U.S. Armed Services 1998; Completeness and timeliness of reporting of hospitalized notifiable cases, U.S. Army, January 1999 - June 1999; ARD surveillance update; Completeness and timeliness of reporting of hospitalized notifiable cases, U.S. Navy, January 1998 - June 1999.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 5 No. 4 – May 1999

Report
1/1/1999

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; Varicella Primary Prevention Program (VPPP), Fort Knox; ARD surveillance update; Completeness and timeliness of reporting; Pneumococcal pneumonia outbreak, Fort Benning; Selected sentinel reportable events, April 1999; Selected sentinel reportable events, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, April 1999.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 5 No. 5 – June/July 1999

Report
1/1/1999

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Active duty, 1985-1999; Reserve, 1985-1999; National Guard, 1985-1999; Civilian applicants for service; Program summary, U.S. Army, 1999; Selected sentinel reportable events, June 1999; Selected sentinel reportable events, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, June 1999; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; Histoplasmosis outbreak, U.S. soldiers, Panama; ARD surveillance update; Supplement #2: Reportable medical events; Quarterly update, all reportable conditions, 1999; Sentinel reportable diseases, 1999 (vs. 1998); Sentinel reportable STD's, 1999 (vs. 1998); Active duty force strength (March 1999); Supplement #1: Update: HIV-1 screening, US Army.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 5 No. 7 – October/November 1999

Report
1/1/1999

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Acute respiratory illnesses, pneumonias, and influenza, U.S. Army, January 1998 - May 1999; Sentinel reportable events by reporting facility; Sentinel reportable events, active duty soldiers; Predictors of accidental death in male soldiers, 1990-1998; Injuries among senior officers, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania; ARD surveillance update; Supplement #1: Reportable medical events; Quarterly update, all reportable conditions, 1999; Sentinel reportable events; Sentinel reportable STDs; Active duty force strength (June 1999).

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 5 No. 6 – August/September 1999

Report
1/1/1999

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Eye injuries, active duty soldiers, 1993 – 1998; Sentinel reportable events by reporting facility; Sentinel reportable events, active duty soldiers; Ankle injuries, active duty service members, 1990 -1998; ARD surveillance update; Causes of injury and poisoning hospitalizations, U.S. Army, 1998.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 4 No. 8 – December 1998

Report
1/1/1998

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Completeness and timeliness of reporting; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, November 1998; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, November 1998; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; Tick-borne encephalitis vaccine, Bosnia-Herzegovina; ARD surveillance update; Outbreak of parainfluenza type 1 respiratory illness, Fort Sill.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 4 No. 5 – July/August 1998

Report
1/1/1998

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Late presentations of vivax malaria of Korean origin; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, July 1998; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, July 1998; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; ARD surveillance update; Hyposmolality related to excessive water consumption; Trends in hospitalizations due to mental disorders; Supplement #1: Update: HIV-1 testing in the Army; HIV-1 testing, Active duty , 1988-1998; HIV-1 testing, Reserve , 1988-1998; HIV-1 testing, National Guard, 1988-1998; HIV-1 testing, civilian applicants for service; HIV-1 tests, summary, U.S. Army, 1997; Supplement #2: Reportable diseases; All reportable conditions, 1998; Sentinel reportable diseases, 1998 (vs. 1997); Sentinel reportable STD's, 1998 (vs. 1997); Active duty force strength (March 1998).

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 4 No. 2 – February/March 1998

Report
1/1/1998

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Back pain hospitalizations among active duty soldiers, Part 1; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, January 1998; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, January 1998; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; Leprosy in an active duty soldier; Influenza outbreak, U.S. Navy, Hawaii; ARD surveillance update; Transfusion-transmitted P. falciparum malaria.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 4 No. 6 – September 1998

Report
1/1/1998

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Morbility surveillance, field training exercise, Thailand; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, August 1998; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, August 1998; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; Outbreak, rapidly-growing mycobacterial infection; ARD surveillance update; Foodborne outbreak, Salmonella gastroenteritis.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 4 No. 7 – October/November 1998

Report
1/1/1998

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Norwalk-like viral gastroenteritis outbreak, Fort Bliss; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, October 1998; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, October 1998; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; Hospitalizations and outpatient visits, musculoskeletal disorders; ARD surveillance update; Heat-related outpatient visits, 1997-1998; Supplement #1: Reportable diseases; All reportable conditions, 1998; Sentinel reportable diseases, 1998 (vs. 1997); Sentinel reportable STD's, 1998 (vs. 1997); Active duty force strength (June 1998).

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 4 No. 4 – May/June 1998

Report
1/1/1998

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Completeness and timeliness of required disease reporting; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, May 1998; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, May 1998; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; Elevated blood lead, Fort Campbell; ARD surveillance update; Infant botulism, WRAMC.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 4 No. 3 – April 1998

Report
1/1/1998

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Hospitalizations and noneffective days, 1997; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, March 1998; Selected sentinel reportable diseases, 2 year trends; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, March 1998; Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 2 year trends; Leptospirosis, Tripler Army Medical Center; ARD surveillance update; Varicella outbreak at Fort Knox; Supplement #1: Hospitalization Summary, 1997; Active duty hospitalizations; Active duty hospitalization rates; Total active duty hospital sick days; Noneffective rates, active duty hospitalizations; Supplement #2: Reportable Diseases Summary, 1997; All reportable conditions, 1997; Sentinel reportable diseases, 1997 (vs. 1996); Reportable sexually transmitted diseases, 1997; Sentinel reportable STDs, 1997 (vs. 1996); Force strength (December 1997).

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health
<< < ... 46 47 48 49 > >> 
Showing results 691 - 705 Page 47 of 49

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.