BBC: The Documentary: Pandemic

(Picture shows the influenza virus. Credit: bodym, Getty Images)
(Picture shows the influenza virus. Credit: bodym, Getty Images)

Professor John Oxford, one of the world’s leading virologists, looks at how the 1918 and 1919 flu pandemic affected every corner of the world.

Over 50 million people died in the three outbreaks which hit between 1918 and 1919. It’s one of the most devastating pandemics in history and to this day scientists are still trying to pin point its origins in the hope of learning lessons for fighting such a catastrophe in the future.

More people died in the so called ‘Spanish Flu’ of 100 years ago, than perished in the First World War. It even killed more than the bubonic plague, yet in many parts of the world it’s virtually forgotten about.

We hear how otherwise healthy soldiers returning safely from war would be dead within three or four days, how whole families would be wiped out in a week and how the authorities in different parts of the world struggled to cope with looking after the sick and burying their dead on such a huge scale.

John looks through the archives and traces its emergence and spread through every continent. We hear real and dramatised testimony from people who lived through it in countries like South Africa, Britain, France, America and New Zealand

John presents his own hypothesis, gleaned from years of work in the area, on where it may have all begun and how we might prevent it from happening again.

A Made in Manchester Production for BBC World Service.

Support Provided By