Fact check: The Spanish flu pandemic was not linked to the introduction of electricity

A Facebook post claims the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 was not caused by a virus but by the introduction of electricity. This is not true. The post also makes false claims relating to viruses and the response to Spanish flu.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

A Facebook post with over 320 shares as of August 19 (here) features two images connected to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic along with a lengthy caption: “What 'they' refer to as Spanish Flu (1918) was not a 'flu' - it was the result of the introduction of electricity. When the body is exposed to a new form of radiation it causes illness which may produce 'flu like' symptoms.” This article will address some of the claims made in the text.

Many regions affected by the Spanish flu pandemic had introduced electricity years before the pandemic. For example, some homes in New York City were powered by electricity as early as the 1880s, according to the Institute for Energy Research (here).

An estimated one third of the world’s population became infected with the H1N1 virus, or so-called Spanish flu, between 1918 and 1920, with at least 50 million people around the world estimated to have died from the disease (here ).

There is no link between the Spanish flu pandemic and the increased use of electricity as a power source. Electricity does not produce ionizing radiation, which can remove electrons from atoms and molecules (here). While electrical devices can be sources of non-ionizing radiation, there is no conclusive evidence linking this type of radiation to poor health (here).

The post on social media also states: “The only people who died during this scamdemic were those who received the dreaded vaccination. How can a vaccine help radiation poisoning? Those who were not vaccinated recovered from their symptoms. This is the same situation we are facing today.”

There was no vaccine developed in the response to the Spanish flu pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on its website: “with no vaccine to protect against influenza infection and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with influenza infections, control efforts worldwide were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, which were applied unevenly” (here).

The post on social also claims that “viruses do not exist”. The user alleges that the only way anyone can get ill is via poisoning, “whether it be physical, metal [sic], emotional or spiritual.”

This is also false. A virus is a submicroscopic agent that can only survive inside a host body (here). Viruses, or virus-like elements, are present in all living organisms (here). Multiple viruses have been identified that can affect the health of humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists many viruses which are capable of reaching epidemic or pandemic proportions. These include, but are not limited to, novel coronavirus, zika virus, meningitis, ebola and SARS (here).

A photo featured in the post shows troops wearing masks on the streets of Seattle, Washington before they were deployed to France during World War One. The image features in a 2018 blog from the National Archives and Records Administration (here).

The newspaper headline featured in the piece is from the San Francisco Chronicle, according to a recent New York Times article (here), and refers to an anti-mask meeting that took place in January, 1919.

There are other secondary claims in the text on social media, which are out of the scope of this fact check.


False. The Spanish flu pandemic was not linked to the introduction of electricity. There was no vaccine offered during the outbreak which began in 1918 and the assertion that viruses do not exist is false.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .