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Pandemic

Vehicles ambulances, during the 1918 flu epidemic lined up outside Wellington Town Hall. Image credits: Alexander Turnbull Library (PAColl-7489-69)

A pandemic is an infectious disease that spreads across a number of continents or even worldwide. Pandemics are often caused by new diseases or mutations of existing viruses, such as the avian flu (H5N1).

Historical pandemics in New Zealand

Of all the pandemics New Zealand has experienced, the 1918 influenza pandemic had the greatest impact. An estimated 30 – 40% of the population contracted the virus and over 8,600 died, that’s almost half the total death toll from World War I, where an estimated 18,000 New Zealanders died. 

The flu affected the Maori population particularly badly, with an estimated death rate of 4.2% of the population. The 1918 influenza virus was notable in that of those that died over half were young and previously healthy adults. This had a devastating effect on the New Zealand economy as it tried to recover from both the war and the pandemic. 

The Ministry of Health is responsible for monitoring disease outbreaks overseas and planning for a possible pandemic response in New Zealand.

Find out more 

Further information is available from the Ministry of Health's Pandemic planning and response.