Yes, influenza (also called the grippe), a contagious virus, has reached worldwide epidemic proportions three times in the twentieth century alone. An epidemic occurred in 1918 and lasted into the next year; 20 million people died across the globe, including half a million Americans. Many of these deaths occurred as a result of secondary infections in patients whose immune systems were weakened by the flu. The advent of antibiotics, which became commercially available in 1945, helped prevent any subsequent flu outbreak from becoming so deadly. From 1957 to 1958 the Asian flu caused a worldwide epidemic, and from 1968 to 1969, the Hong Kong flu spread quickly to cause an epidemic. But dramatically fewer deaths were caused in these years due to the availability of antibiotics to control secondary infections.