Century-old correspondence has revealed what it was like in Whanganui during the 1918 flu pandemic.
During the current Covid-19 pandemic, Whanganui woman Susanna Norris has been reading her family's 1918 letters and diaries.
They record returned soldiers dying in "dozens" at Trentham camp, 70 boys ill at Wanganui Collegiate School and a young pilot who went from full health to "as weak as a kitten" in just 24 hours.
The difference in death rate is stark. New Zealand deaths from Covid-19 coronavirus so far - 22. New Zealand deaths from the 1918 flu - 8573.
"We think we have it hard now, but we are so looked after, in spite of what we think," Norris said.
The 1918 flu epidemic started around March and lasted 15 months. It came in three waves, infected a third of the world's population and killed 17 to 50 million people.
A disproportionate number of the dead were young adults, perhaps because they were already debilitated by World War I. Māori were eight to 10 times more likely to die than Pākehā.
In October 1918 Whanganui man Seton Montgomerie was a World War I pilot stationed in England.
On October 22 he woke up feeling bad.
The next day he was sent to Belton Park Military Hospital, where the 30-bed ward filled up in 24 hours.
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His temperature hit 103.6degF (39.7degC), his whole body was sore, and on October 25 his nose bled uncontrollably for 10 minutes and he nearly fainted. By then he had "about as much strength as a kitten".
"It is a fact that you can only go about 24 hours with an infection before it takes you down," he said.
The ward was cold, with only one coal fire, and the food was poor. By November 1 he was recovering, but still weak. He had lost so much weight that his puttees would go twice around his legs.
Back in Whanganui Norris' great grandmother and Seton's grandmother, Elizabeth Montgomerie, was in her late seventies and living in a boarding house in Ingestre St. On November 10, just before peace was declared in Europe, she writes her daughter-in-law Annie in England about the funeral of Whanganui man Leslie Christie.
He had trained as a doctor, served in the war and went to Trentham Military Camp in the Hutt Valley to look after returning troops. He caught the flu there and died.
The influenza was dreadful in Wellington and up the coast, Montgomerie said.
"All the doctors and nurses have been laid up at the same time, they had 70 boys down in one night at the college [Wanganui Collegiate School], the next week they had 64 down - here three boys with pneumonia now, four of the masters were down too."
On November 24 she writes that Whanganui is full of sick people and there are only two doctors available for the town and surrounding country. She herself is well but has "taken and done all kinds of things" to stay that way.
"You will see in the paper all the sickness we have in town, just now a number are dying at Trentham, they are dying in dozens - those who are not strong after the war. My Archie has been very ill and is still - the Dr has been twice a day. The children are all better, not up yet."