oa South African Medical Journal - In a Time of Plague: Memories of the ‘Spanish’ Flu Epidemic of 1918 in South Africa, Howard Phillips - book review

Volume 109 Number 5
  • ISSN : 0256-9574
  • E-ISSN: 2078-5135



This is a timely, significant, moving and often absorbing compilation of testimonies, letters and memories of one of the most important events in South African (SA) history; yet, paradoxically, one that has been largely forgotten: the ‘great’ or ‘Spanish’ influenza epidemic of 1918 - 1919. This virulent infectious disease visited the region in waves. The first – its impact relatively muted – via Durban, affected people in the then Natal hinterland, followed by the Witwatersrand region in September 1918. A few weeks later, the second, far deadlier mutation of the virus struck. Over 6 weeks it scythed through the Cape, the then Orange Free State, and the Ciskei and Transkei, and indeed across the country, as far north as Messina. A third, milder wave occurred in August 1919.

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