The Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918

On September 19, 1918, the contagion known as the “Spanish Flu” appeared in the port city of Wilmington. Within a week the hard-struck city reported some 400 cases of the illness. It was a sign of the devastation yet to be wrought by the pandemic.

At the height of the flu outbreak during the winter of 1918-1919 at least 20% of North Carolinians were infected by the disease. The so-called “Spanish Lady” killed nearly 14,000 citizens of the state.

A confluence of events created a viral strain of the contagion, and that mutated virus found more victims than normal due, in part, to the ongoing world war. Large numbers of people were traveling around the county and the world like never before, and the virus was able to travel by hosts and spread.

The flu outbreak forced a reorganization of the still-budding North Carolina health care system. Home Relief groups formed and only an outpouring of public charity helped to check the spread of the disease. At least 17 doctors succumbed to the virus while tending to the infected.

Many North Carolina communities suffered during the pandemic but Wilmington remained of the hardest hit by the “Spanish Lady.”

Other related resources:

  • An online exhibit from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells the story of the 1918 epidemic.

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