The old black and white photographs are haunting.
Rows upon rows of bleak white cots spreading out to the horizon, filled with soldiers suffering not from war injuries, but the effects of a terrible new disease which mankind had never seen before. Many of these young men would die, their lungs swelling with fluid until they choked to death. Back in their hometowns, their family members waged the same helpless battle. Doctors could only treat the symptoms and hope they themselves didn’t fall victim. Governments rushed to impose some sort of order, but only those cities that completely closed their borders suffered fewer casualties. In all, there were three waves of illness, spanning three years and reaching into every corner of the world, and when it had subsided, twenty percent of the world population was gone. The very young and the old were spared; an entire generation had been wiped away with one sweeping blow. The culprit? The flu.
Almost a hundred years have passed since the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. But despite tremendous medical advances, and our increased understanding of what a virus is and how it spreads, people are almost as vulnerable today as they were back then. Perhaps even more so, given air travel and how small the world has become. There is no cure. We can see the monster, but we can’t stop it.
In 2006, having just moved to a new hometown with my young children, I was...