The Spanish Flu, 1918-1920.

The Spanish Flu (1918-1920) spread internationally in less than six months following the First World War. The earliest recorded outbreak was in the mid-western United States, and then quickly spread to Europe and beyond in three waves known as the ‘Spring Wave,’ the ‘Fall Wave,’ and then a third undefined wave. In the devastating Fall Wave, an estimated 24.7-39.3 million people died globally from symptoms such as severe fever, headache, sore throat, and body aches (“Calm, Cool, Courageous.”). 

Japanese Spanish Flu Poster

Poster from the Japanese Minister of Interior.

This public health awareness poster was created and distributed by the Japanese Ministry of Interior to promote the use of masks and face coverings to inhibit the spread of the Spanish Flu in 1919. This illustration is accessible through its easily interpreted depiction of the red specks as the virus surrounding the infected person without a mask. Those wearing the masks remain unaffected by the Spanish Flu (the red specks). During the epidemic, Japan experienced similar death rates to Europe and North America with an estimated 350,000 deaths during the Fall Wave (Patterson & Pyle 1991, 17).

Edvard Munch Spanish Flu Self-Portrait

Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu, Edvard Munch.

This is an oil on canvas self-portrait of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch from 1919, depicting his recovery from the Spanish Flu. Munch’s depiction of his unmade bed and messy room, along with his house clothing and pale and gaunt appearance suggests the physical and mental toll of the virus. During the Fall Wave, Norway experienced the second-lowest death rate in Europe with 13,000 perishing from the plague (Patterson & Pyle 1991, 14). 

Última Hora

Última Hora.

This print depicts the Soldier of Naples (a skeleton in a soldier's uniform), a metaphor for the Spanish Flu in Spain, relaxing in a cemetery made up of different cities in Spain. The calm disposition of the Soldier of Naples can be interpreted as the effortless spread and surprising destruction of the seemingly harmless Spanish Flu, while also commenting on the overcrowded cemeteries throughout Spain. During the Fall Wave, around 150,000 people were killed by the Flu (Patterson & Pyle 1991, 15).

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