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Raleigh Museum Exhibit Commemorates 1918 North Carolina Flu Epidemic

N.C. Public Health Communicable Disease Branch Head Evelyn Foust tours the exhibit with its designer, Research Educator Ed Longe at the exhibit’s official opening on Jan. 12

Jan. 24, 2018 — On Sept. 19, 1918, a virus that would come to be known as the Spanish Flu appeared in Wilmington after turning up earlier that month in Boston. Within a week, Wilmington reported 400 cases of the illness. The outbreak reached its peak in our state during the winter of 1918-19, when at least 20 percent of North Carolinians were infected.

The epidemic quickly outpaced the fledgling public health infrastructure that existed in North Carolina at the time. An estimated 200 men, women and children volunteered to assist in relief efforts. Many of these volunteers became infected, and some died. By the time the epidemic ended, the “Spanish Flu” claimed the lives of nearly 14,000 residents of the state and millions more across the planet.

DHHS’ Division of Public Health partnered with the City of Raleigh (COR) Museum to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1918 epidemic with an exhibit designed by COR Museum Research Educator Ed Longe that guides visitors through North Carolina’s experience and response to the epidemic and what science has learned about handling epidemics today and for the future.

“Mr. Longe did a great job of telling the story of this epidemic, incorporating so many interesting elements that remind us how important it is to be ready for the next pandemic,” said Public Health Communicable Disease Branch Head Evelyn Foust. “He even made a part of the exhibit resemble a disease map similar to what would have been used by epidemiologists of the time to track the spread of the epidemic.”

In addition to many illustrative visual elements, the exhibit also includes video segments featuring N.C. Public Health Epidemiologists Jennifer MacFarquhar, MPH, and Jean-Marie Maillard, MD, explaining the process used by Communicable Disease staff to investigate and prevent outbreaks.    

The 1918 flu epidemic left a permanent mark on North Carolina and the world. The lives lost in our state would prove to be a small sample of the worldwide loss in the wake of what would become one of the worst global pandemics mankind has ever witnessed, second only to The Plague of the 14th century. 

To give the 1918 flu epidemic some context, State Epidemiologist Zack Moore, MD, provided a comparison. “World War I claimed about 18 million lives. The influenza epidemic that swept across the world in 1918 claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million people,” Moore said. “One third of the world's population was infected with this virus. Within a few months, it had become one of the deadliest outbreaks in recorded history.” 

The exhibit, “Silent Killers: The Legacy of the 1918 Spanish Flu,” will be open through March 31 at the City of Raleigh Museum. 
For the latest information on seasonal flu activity in North Carolina, visit

Scott Coleman