"Spanish flu" ultimately killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 across the U.S., including 8,459 people in Wisconsin. History is resonating more than a century later as the state fights a new viral villain that has upended life across the world.
The 1918 influenza pandemic and how the ordeal played out in Wisconsin illuminates the scale at which the experience of and response to public health emergencies impact both human lives and the economy.
In 1918, the Spanish flu attacked young, otherwise healthy adults, killed quickly and often, and leapt from Europe to Wisconsin with unimaginable speed. Its cause was unknown; its mode of transmission was unknown; how to stop it was unknown.