The centenary of the Spanish flu's lethal impact on New Zealand has prompted a warning the risk of another flu pandemic remains high.
The main breakout of the Spanish flu happened between October and December 1918, with New Zealand losing half as many people to it in a few months as it did during the whole of World War I. It killed 50 million people worldwide and 9000 people in New Zealand.
Professor Geoff Rice attended a ceremony in Wellington at the weekend to mark 100 years since the country's worst public health disaster.
The researcher said the risk of another flu pandemic remained high and if a similarly deadly infection were to hit New Zealand today, we could expect more than 30,000 deaths.
In 1918 cities like Wellington came to a standstill. Seats were removed from the town hall to make room for beds as it was turned into a temporary hospital. Deaths happened so rapidly that local mail trucks, and even the mayoral car, were used to transport bodies to Karori's cemetery.
The armistice in November, 2018 only contributed to the contagion spreading, as people gathered to celebrate the end of a long war.
The world has experienced recent scares including in 1997 with the Hong Kong bird flu and 2009 with the Mexican swine flu.
Nine new flu strains have appeared in humans since 2000. The key lesson from the Spanish flu was not to be complacent, Rice said.
Grandchild's poignant tale
The Spanish flu's centenary struck a chord with a couple who travelled from Australia's Gold Coast to visit the grave of Matilda Strachan, who died of the flu in Wellington at 35.
Her husband found himself unable to provide daily care for their five sons and the children were sent to an orphanage.
One of them was Mary-Ann Norton's father. She has travelled from Australia to learn more about her family. "I didn't even know my grandparents' names," she said.
"Dad would never talk about them, he was quite bitter that he'd been put in an orphanage. He didn't meet his only surviving brother until they were in their 40s."
A government plan to place some sort of memorial at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park for those who died of the Spanish flu has also come amid the commemorations. Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson said the Government was committed to recognising those people who died and the location was appropriate as many who served in the war were also affected by the flu.
Mayor Justin Lester welcomed the idea. "It was an inglorious death and as a result there wasn't that public acknowledgement or that memorialisation."
- additional reporting Newstalk ZB