In the winter of 1917/18, people around the world began to fall ill with a deadly infection the likes of which had not been seen since the Black Death of the 14th century. It spread like wildfire through overcrowded military camps and hospitals; returning troops and civilian travellers carried it to the far corners of the Earth — even the Arctic. Unlike other influenza strains, which predominantly kill the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, most of the victims of the so-called “Spanish Flu” were previously healthy young adults.
By the end of 1919, the virus had claimed at least 50 million lives — more than the First World War. Entire communities were wiped out, and the deaths compounded the grief of a world already reeling from four years of armed conflict. Until recently, the true toll of the Spanish Flu and its legacy have been overshadowed by the war. That’s why, on the 100th anniversary of the peak of the pandemic, Canadian Geographic is looking back at the flu that changed the world and asking why it was so devastating — and whether such an event could happen again.
Launching this fall, Unmasking Influenza is a multimedia educational project funded in part by the Government of Canada and produced by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society in partnership with Sound Venture Productions, the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC), the Museum of Health Care, Ingenium and Sanofi Pasteur. The project will include a feature-length documentary and shorter explainer videos, a giant floor map, an educational website, a feature article in the September/October issue of Canadian Geographic and a public exhibit to be launched at the 2018 Canadian Immunization Conference in Ottawa. Through these resources, Unmasking Influenza will examine the social and political impact of Spanish Flu on Canada, and shed light on how experts are preparing for the next pandemic.
Watch a teaser trailer below, and check back soon for more updates.