Black Flu 1918: The story of New Zealand's worst public health disaster

Black Flu 1918: The story of New Zealand's worst public health disaster

Geoffrey W. Rice

September 2017
96pp, softback with flaps
265 x 210mm, colour and B&W illustrations
ISBN: 978-1-927145-95-1

Many New Zealand families were affected by the 1918 influenza pandemic. In the space of about six weeks, over 6400 Pakeha died and an estimated 2500 Maori. That equals nearly half the total of New Zealand soldiers killed in the First World War. Yet these were civilians, dying in the first month of peace.

This was New Zealand’s worst-ever public health disaster. The whole country seemed to shut down for several weeks in November 1918. Because the victims’ bodies turned black when they died, many believed it was the plague.

Could it happen again? The risk of another major influenza pandemic is even greater now, thanks to international jet travel. Global flu surveillance should give us better warning, and we now have anti-viral drugs and antibiotics to deal with the secondary pneumonia that was the real killer in 1918. But do we have the systems in place to deal with another massive health crisis?

This book shows how we coped back in 1918 – the response of public health officials, how the sick were nursed, how thousands of convalescents were fed and the lessons learned that may still be useful today. It is an inspiring and fascinating story that all New Zealanders need to know about.

Dr Geoffrey Rice was Professor of History at the University of Canterbury, where he lectured in European history for nearly 40 years until his retirement in 2012. This book is a condensed and updated version of his 2005 book Black November: The 1918 influenza pandemic in New Zealand, which was shortlisted for the History category of the Montana NZ Book Awards. New illustrations have been added, many in colour, and there are new sections on memorials and recent influenza research.