Skip to main content

Military Health System

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

Image of 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 & the MHS Response | Public Health | National Museum of Health and Medicine

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...

Elective surgeries resume within the San Antonio Military Health System

Article
8/25/2020
Two surgeons in an operating room

Patients whose procedures were delayed will be contacted by their surgical team or clinic.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus & the MHS Response

Airman uses SBAR to improve COVID-19 swab technique

Article
8/25/2020
Military personnel in full PPE at a car window demonstrating a swabbing technique

A Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation (SBAR) report is part of Trusted Care.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Coronavirus & the MHS Response

Air Force updates medical courses with COVID-19 content, procedures

Article
8/24/2020
Two technicians in full PPE in a lab

COVID-19 has shed new light on the methods of conducting medical training and education.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Education & Training

New Travis AFB patient transport system supports COVID fight

Article
8/21/2020
Soldiers in masks pushing a piece of equipment

New system amplifies Travis infectious disease patient capabilities.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response

From Shoulder Pads to Shoulder Boards, Navy MSC Officer leads the way

Article
8/21/2020
Soldier in mask

Fisher’s interest in a career with Navy Medicine is rooted in family.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Coronavirus & the MHS Response

Army CID forensics team on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic

Article
8/20/2020
Three lab technicians in full PPE looking at computer screen

At the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we (DFSC FXD) understood the severity and global impact the virus would have...

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Coronavirus & the MHS Response

Air Force invention kills toxins on contact

Article
8/20/2020
Image of a man in a white coat doing experiments. Click to open a larger version of the image.

An Air Force invention could be key to reducing the amount of airborne microbes...inside buildings and homes.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Health and Housing | Health and Housing

DOD Official Discusses Conditions-Based Reopenings, Future of Telework

Article
8/19/2020
Man in full PPE spraying down a chair with sanitizer

Esper was clear from the start about his priorities in a pandemic.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response

DHA proves power of collaboration in medical IT war games

Article
8/18/2020
Men and women in room sitting in front of their laptops

Open-source EHR proves worth in Coalition Warrior Interoperability Exercise

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Health Care Technology

BAMC expands use of ECMO to treat severe COVID-19 patients

Article
8/18/2020
Medical personnel wearing masks, looking at paperwork on desk

This treatment...is used in the intensive care unit when a patient experiences heart and/or lung failure.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response

Air Force medics ‘go mobile’ to continue serving during COVID-19

Article
8/17/2020
Medical personnel wearing a mask, looking at a vial

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the 90th Medical Respiratory Clinic was created and designed to focus on patient care and safety.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response

Military Health System experts discuss COVID-19 innovations

Article
7/30/2020
Four men wearing masks, holding COVID-19 Airway Management Isolation Chamber

How quick thinking and new approaches are saving lives in the pandemic fight.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response

Military Medicine Joining Forces to Fight COVID-19 All Around the World

Article
7/17/2020
A group of military personnel posing for a picture

Multiple commands from the Navy and Air Force responded to the request with personnel from all over the country.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Innovative RX pad creates path for prescribing mobile health technology

Article
7/15/2020

Technology and healthcare are constantly evolving fields.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Public Health

U.S. Naval Hospital Guam Collects Convalescent Plasma from Sailors

Article
7/2/2020
Technician takes notes next to convalescent plasma samples.

The CCP is the liquid part of blood from patients who have recovered from an infection.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Coronavirus & the MHS Response
<< < ... 11 12 13 14 15 > >> 
Showing results 196 - 210 Page 14 of 15
Refine your search
Last Updated: August 23, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery