The 1918 influenza pandemic killed more than 600,000 Americans and 50 million people worldwide, according to Center for Disease Control historians. Scientific technology improvements made it possible to identify pandemics in later years compared to the 1918 tragedy.
The influenza epidemic in 1918 was the story of the worst epidemic ever known in the U.S.
The nation was at war and in the middle of draft call-ups, troop shipments and bond drives when the epidemic hit.
American soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas carried the disease to the trenches of Europe where it mutated into a killer virus. When they returned home, they brought the flu home with them. One soldier complained of fever, sore throat and a headache and by noon they had over 100 cases. A week later there were 500 and that spring brought the death of 48 soldiers. Across the country thousands of soldiers fell ill quickly and dead bodies were “stacked like cord wood.”
The disease spread to the civilian population and people could be healthy in the morning and dead by nightfall. Some died more slowly and doctors were baffled and hopeless to stop the influenza. Many officials found that quarantines had no real impact on the spread of the disease.
National public health officials distributed masks and forbade spitting in the streets. In Emmett, health officials threatened punishment of fines or imprisonment if the law was not followed. But, the disease spread across the nation. More than 195,000 died in America in October 1918.
The nation had a shortage of caskets on the east coast and the dead were left in gutters and stacked in caskets on front porches. People hid and were afraid to interact with friends and neighbors.
Idaho officials and newspapers urged the community to remain calm. In some Idaho counties, public gatherings were prohibited.
As suddenly as the disease came ... it vanished. It ran out of fuel and people who were susceptible to it, according to the CDC. In Idaho, the disease ran its course and influenza rates decreased by the late fall.
Idaho pandemic timeline
The US Department of Health and Human Services
On Sept. 30, 1918, officials in Idaho reported that there were several cases of influenza in Canyon County. In less than two weeks, the state admitted that the number of cases had grown to such an extent that they were unable to track the disease accurately. By late October, cases of influenza were reported in Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Moscow, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Wallace and a range of other towns.