Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

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...

COVID-19 Vaccine: All Adults Eligible MTF Option Screensaver2

Infographic
4/22/2021
A screensaver that encourages individuals to check in at their DOD vaccination sites to see appointment availability. Includes the TRICARE logo on the bottom right and a link at the bottom of the screensaver for individuals to learn more at www.tricare.mil/VaccineAppointments

A screensaver that encourages individuals to check in at their DOD vaccination sites to see appointment availability.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

COVID-19 Vaccine: All Adults Eligible Graphic

Infographic
4/22/2021
A navy and gray graphic stating that all eligible and authorized DOD individuals can make a COVID vaccine appointment. Contains a QR code for individuals to use to sign up for an appointment. TRICARE logo is located at the bottom right corner.

Graphic stating that all eligible and authorized DOD individuals can make a COVID vaccine appointment. Contains sign up instructions.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

COVID-19 Vaccine: All Adults Eligible Choices Screensaver

Infographic
4/22/2021
A navy and gray graphic with information on where adults can get the COVID-19 vaccine. Includes a link at the bottom of the graphic for www.tricare.mil/CovidVaccine and also has the TRICARE logo on the bottom right corner.

A screensaver that provides information on where adults can get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

VAX Fact Protection Last

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Fact: How long does a COVID-19 vaccine protect me for? We do not know yet how long protection may last for those who receive a COVID-19 vaccine.  We do know a COVID-19 vaccine may reduce your chances of spreading the illness to others or facing more serious illness, including hospitalization. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is a safer choice.

An infographic answering the question of how long the COVID-19 vaccine protection lasts.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Fact Breastfeeding

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Fact Q and A: Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I'm breastfeeding? It's up to you to decide.  The CDC says COVID-19 vaccines can be offered to pregnant or breastfeeding women.  If you have questions about getting vaccinated, a conversation with your healthcare provider may help but is not required.

An infographic answering the question of whether you can get the COVID-19 vaccine if you're breastfeeding.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Fact Other Medical Conditions

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Fact: Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I have other medical conditions? If you have underlying medical conditions, you can choose a COVID-19 vaccine if you have not had an immediate or severe allergic reaction to any ingredients in the shots. Vaccination is an important consideration for adults of any age to reduce risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

An infographic answering the question of whether you can get the COVID-19 vaccine if you have underlying medical conditions.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Fact Currently Pregnant

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Fact: Should I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I'm currently pregnant? Talk with your healthcare provider to help you decide if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine.  Clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines may offer data and outcomes in the future.  The CDC has a smartphone tool called v-safe.  It offers personalized health check-ins that you can enroll in after a vaccination.

An infographic answering the question of whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine if you're currently pregnant.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Fact Current Infection

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Facts: Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I currently have a positive COVID-19 infection: No. People with a COVID-19 positive test result or illness symptoms should wait to be vaccinated until they recover and meet the criteria for discontinuing isolation.  This also applies if you get COVID-19 between a first and second vaccine dose.

An infographic answering the question of whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine if you currently have a positive COVID-19 infection.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Fact Affect Fertility

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Fact: Does a COVID-19 vaccine affect my fertility? There is currently no evidence of fertility impacts due to COVID-19 vaccines.  If you are trying to conceive or want to get pregnant in the future, you may choose to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available.

An infographic answering the question of whether the COVID-19 vaccine affects a person's fertility.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Is It Your Time to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Infographic
3/5/2021
This graphic informs TRICARE beneficiaries which tier they fall into as their local military treatment facility or clinic offers the vaccine.

This Infographic informs TRICARE beneficiaries which tier they fall into as their local military treatment facility or clinic offers the vaccine.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Genetic sequence data for SARS-CoV-2

Infographic
6/5/2020
Infographic describing how DoD was able to conduct genome sequencing on the COVID-19 virus

Genetic sequence data for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes #COVID19, plays a vital role in force health protection efforts within the DoD. To jumpstart sequencing efforts, the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch's Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response applied a collaborative approach to sequencing capabilities. Resulting sequence data will provide critical information about transmission patterns, track diagnostic effectiveness, and guide the development and evaluation of medical countermeasures.

Recommended Content:

Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Coronavirus | Global Emerging Infections Surveillance

Mononucleosis

Infographic
7/1/2019
Mononucleosis

A specimen is tested for mononucleosis at the medical clinic on Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota (U.S. Air Force photo)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Influenza

Infographic
7/1/2019
Adminstration of a seasonal flu vaccination. (U.S. Navy photo)

Adminstration of a seasonal flu vaccination. (U.S. Navy photo)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Zika

Infographic
7/1/2019
Zika

Anopheles merus mosquito. (CDC photo by James Gathany)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Psittacosis

Infographic
7/1/2019
Psittacosis

Green-winged Macaw. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 4

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.