Hospital ward full of soliders ill with Spanish flu

Flu through history

Pandemics have occurred periodically over the past 150 years

Five global flu pandemics have occurred, most recently the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, which, fortunately, was relatively mild.

New technologies are now providing ways to identify human infections acquired from other animals, particularly birds, which could spark a new pandemic.

1890: Russian flu (H3?) kills 1 million.

1918: Spanish flu (H1N1) kills 40–50 million.

1957: Asian flu (H2N2) kills 100,000–2 million.

1959: H5N1 bird flu kills two flocks of chickens in Scotland (but does not infect people).

1968: Hong Kong flu (H3N2) kills 700,000–1 million.

1976: Fort Dix swine flu outbreak; one death, 40 million Americans inoculated.

1987: First H5N1 outbreak. 

1997: Hong Kong H5N1 outbreak; six human deaths.

2003: First post-Hong Kong H5N1 deaths.

2009: H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

2013: H7N9 bird flu detected in humans in China; the World Health Organization has described H7N9 as “an unusually dangerous virus for humans”.

2014: First human death from H10N8 bird flu.

Lead image:

Soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas, USA, ill with Spanish influenza at a hospital ward.

US Army photographer via ScienceGrrl/Flickr CC BY

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Influenza special issue’ in October 2009 and reviewed and updated in January 2015.

Health, infection and disease, History
Influenza special issue
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development