Influenza 1918 – premieres 10.15pm, Thursday September (Sky 534 & Virgin Media 243)
On November 11, 1918, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief as the guns fell silent. Little did anyone know that an even more deadly catastrophe was about to be unleashed, claiming over three times as many lives as the last four years of global warfare.
￼Robert Kenner’s documentary tells the story, from an American perspective, of the influenza epidemic that killed an estimated four percent of the world’s population. The outbreak of the disease in the US came in September 1918, when soldiers at an army base near Boston suddenly began to die. The cause of death was identified as influenza, but it was unlike any strain ever seen. As the killer virus spread across the country, spread by thousands of soldiers returning home from the battlefields, hospitals overfilled, death carts roamed the streets and helpless city officials dug mass graves. Researchers had developed vaccines for many bacterial diseases, but doctors were helpless to stop the influenza of 1918. October saw the epidemic’s full horror. In Philadelphia, the dead were left in gutters and stacked in caskets on the front porches. People hid indoors, afraid to interact with their friends and neighbours. Then, just as suddenly as it struck, the disease began to disappear after claiming over 600,000 American lives. The reasons for the epidemic’s abrupt end remain a mystery.