The spectre of a new epidemic triggers painful memories for Native Americans and others who heard first hand about the 1918 influenza pandemic. After all, it killed 50 to 100 million people, as much as a quarter of the world population. The 1918 influenza was highly contagious with a 2.5 percent mortality rate. (Estimates indicate the COVID-19 virus has a 2.3 percent mortality rate, although that figure may change as researchers learn more about how many people were infected.)
The 1918 influenza spread worldwide in less than a year, and struck and killed people quickly. It attacked people in their 20s and 30s, when immune systems are usually at their strongest. People would come down with a headache, nausea and a fever then die as soon as three days later. They would turn blue and suffocate as lungs filled with fluid. Some experienced hemorrhaging from the nose, stomach, ears and even the eyes.
“Indigenous people all over the world were especially vulnerable; some were not just decimated but sometimes annihilated,” stated Benjamin R. Brady of University of Arizona and Howard M. Bahr of Brigham Young University in a 2014 American Indian Quarterly article. “Native Americans ‘suffered hideously,’ with mortality rates four times higher than in the wider population.”