Colds and flu

Updated 11 October 2017

1918 - who was affected by the flu?

Unlike other outbreaks of flu, the 1918 epidemic decimated not the young and the old, but those between the ages of 15 - 38.

The people most affected by the flu were:

  • Young people
  • Black people
  • Pregnant women
  • More men than women

Unlike other outbreaks of flu, the 1918 epidemic decimated not the young and the old, but those between the ages of 15 - 38. Men were more severely affected than women, possibly because they moved around more and were exposed to the viral infections to a far greater degree.

The Influenza Epidemic Commission surmised that the older population was partially immunised having lived through previous infections.

Particularly hard hit were pregnant women. Spontaneous miscarriages were frequent amongst expectant mothers who had been infected. As the disease was fatal to so many potential parents, school enrollments reflected a marked drop in the mid-twenties, a fact ascribed by Cape Educational authorities to the significantly lower birth rates during and after the flu epidemic. Phillips indeed speaks of "a lost generation".

The population of the Cape appeared to bear the brunt of this epidemic as shown by the figures below:

Percentage of deaths by province:

  • Cape Province - 62,46
  • Transvaal - 20,55
  • OFS - 6,98
  • Natal - 10,01

Of those who died, close on 80% were black, many living in rural areas of the Transkei and Ciskei.

Sources for the whole section on the 1918 epidemic in South Africa: SA Railways and Harbour Magazine, December 1918; Phillips, Howard. South Africa's worst Demographic Disaster: The Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918. (South African Historical Journal, (20), 1988.


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules