The 1918-1920 influenza pandemic was one of the deadliest events in modern history. Estimates vary, but a common figure cited is that over 50 million people died during the pandemic. This chart shows the breakdown of the 1918-1920 influenza deaths by region.
The 1918-1920 influenza is commonly referred to as the “Spanish Flu”. This is a bit of a misnomer as the disease did not originate in Spain, as the name would suggest. There are many theories on where it actually began, including Kansas and New York City, though it is not certain.
The disease was named the Spanish Flu as Spain was neutral during World War I. This meant their news sources could be trusted as impartial. The countries at war (US, UK, France, Germany, etc) could not be trusted due to wartime censorship and propaganda. These countries did not want their enemies to know they were weak or distracted, and thus did not report on the outbreak.
There were three main waves to the pandemic. An initial one in Spring 1918, a second wave in fall 1918 and a third wave in Winter/Spring 1919. The second wave was by far the most deadly. Though the worst of it was over by summer 1919, the disease persisted until the mid 1920s.
The military complex had a large role in spreading the virus around the globe. Troop movements during the war sent military personnel to the far corners of the globe, likely accelerating the spread. In addition, when the war ended in November 1918, soldiers returned home taking the virus with them. Immigration to the United States and other countries also did not help.
1918-1920 Influenza Deaths by Region
Though the pandemic was global, as the chart shows the deaths were not spread equally around the world. The vast majority of the deaths occurred in Asia. China and India were the hardest hit in total deaths due to their immense populations, though Indonesia and Japan also marked significant death counts.
This region was significantly poorer than other parts of the world, and had higher population density. This combination could be a reason why the influenza outbreak seemed much worse there.
Though their total death count barely reads as a blip on the total death count, Oceania had some of the highest death counts on a per-capita basis. The island of Western Samoa had a death toll of just 8,500. This was just over 20% of their total population – an extremely high number.