DISASTERS AND MISHAPS – INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC OF 1918
Pestilence has not been one of New Zealand's be-setting problems. Even in the earliest days of settlement, when preventive and remedial medical services were limited, a salubrious climate and austere living conditions were guarantees of a reasonable standard of physical health. Between 1910 and 1920 the incidence of smallpox warranted preventive measures on a national scale, and similar widespread immunisation and precautionary methods were found necessary in respect of diphtheria at various times since the turn of the century. Infantile paralysis or, as it later came to be called, poliomyelitis, was also responsible for varying death rolls, and from the 1920s onwards it developed on occasion to the point where restrictions on school attendance and public assembly were necessary. The overall death roll, however, was not high by epidemic standards.
It was in 1918 that the greatest epidemic in the history of the country swept New Zealand with grim results. It was a world-wide catastrophe, and in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia it was estimated that 720,000,000 were affected, with a death roll of 21,000,000. In New Zealand in the summer months of 1918–19 the deaths from this plague form of pneumonic influenza were in excess of 6,700. A total of 5,516 Europeans died, and Maori fatalities were estimated at over 1,200. Deaths in Auckland City were 1,680 and in Wellington 1,406. The disease was most virulent in centres of population, and in a matter of months accounted for more lives than those lost from influenza and associated ailments in the preceding 46 years.