When the flu wiped out millions


Story highlights

Perri Klass: Before Ebola, there was Spanish flu, World War I-era pandemic

It killed tens of millions, more than died in war; mainly young adults; was similar to Ebola

One result: Cities modernized medical infrastructure, strategies to stop spread, she says

Klass: It taught us realities of stemming contagion: Wash hands, get your flu shot!

Editor’s Note: This is the 10th in a series on the legacies of World War I appearing on for the 100-year anniversary of the war’s outbreak. Ruth Ben-Ghiat is guest editor for the series. Perri Klass is a professor of journalism and pediatrics at New York University and director of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

CNN —  

Before Ebola, there was the flu – the Spanish flu of 1918, which burned rapidly through army barracks, refugee camps, troop ships, all the crowded high-risk zones that World War I created.

Some people think it came out of Kansas. The first American cases developed there. Soldiers from army camps like Fort Riley, in eastern Kansas, carried the virus to other camps around the U.S., and over the sea to France.