Young Adults and Children

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A photo of Rudolph Gieschen, 30,  and his wife Henrietta, who were both victims of influenza. They died one day apart in 1918. Courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library via the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center.

On November 11, 1918, thousands of people took to the streets in celebration of the end of the war in Europe. But the war wasn't the only burden that people wished to forget. In small towns and large cities, the flu virus was inescapable, and it took an especially great toll on the nation's young. Deviating from past outbreaks, the death rate for young adults (ages 15-34) was high—twenty times higher in 1918 than during the average flu outbreak. For example, on October 4 alone, New York City recorded 999 new cases of influenza, of which nearly 700 were children. Pregnant women were especially hard-hit by the illness, and among the survivors, many lost their babies.

While schools were reluctant to close, volunteer-run day care centers were opened so that children with sick parents would be less easily exposed. In Oshkosh, Wisconsin, an eighteen-year-old who had just received his military physical became the town's first casualty on October 8.  Soon after, placards were placed on the doors of those who were reported to be infected with the flu. As with adult gatherings, children’s favorite places of amusement, like playgrounds and fairs, closed down nationwide.