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Some believe the 1889 Russian flu pandemic was actually caused by a coronavirus – here’s why that’s unlikely

Research output: Exhibits, objects and web-based outputsBlogpeer-review

Publication date9/01/2024
PublisherThe Conversation
Medium of outputOnline
<mark>Original language</mark>English


A debate is raging in virology - was the influenza pandemic of 1889-1893, following a mysterious disease in cattle, not flu at all but really bovine coronavirus OC43? A new study calculates the date of OC43's leap into humans at 1899-1900, making the 1890s a decade with a pandemic double-whammy. The story about the Russian flu of 1889-1893 allegedly being OC43 coronavirus was broken by The Observer in 2020, based on a fairly obscure paper from 2005. Thanks to this publicity, many members of the public now believe this and there is also a considerable following among scientists, some of whom are generating supporting papers. This new study sets the record straight - the Russian flu was not a coronavirus, but it also shows that it is not implausible to have two rather devastating pandemics in a single decade.