Coronavirus possibly caused a million deaths in 1890, says Marc Van Ranst
Share article:
Share article:

Coronavirus possibly caused a million deaths in 1890, says Marc Van Ranst

Ministerial visit to an "influenza hospital."(Reproduction of a lithograph by J. Braakensiek, 1889 - CC BY 4.0)

It is possible that the world experienced a deadly coronavirus epidemic 130 years ago as well, according to Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst.

Many physicians, as well as the population, talked about the “Russian flu,” as the rumours about the disease that spread across the continent in 1889-1890, came from the east. It did not have an official name, but was mainly recorded as “influenza” by doctors, meaning they believed it to be a simple flu virus.

People who were infected got severely ill, according to Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst. “With a lot of symptoms that were totally atypical for a flu,” he told De Volkskrant.

Initially, the people in Europe thought that their better hygienic standards would prevent the flu, that was spreading across Russia, from crossing over. One inspector of the Brussels health service even wrote that the so-called Russian flu was “a disease from which no one dies.”

The virus, however, led to a pandemic which resulted in a total of at least 1 million to 1.5 million deaths within a few months.

Related News:

 

“Extreme fatigue, high fever, coughing, severe headaches. Russian sources also noted a loss of smell and taste. Very conspicuous. Because that is a symptom we are also seeing right now,” said Van Ranst. “Already in 1890, people said that it was impossible that this was a flu. I do not believe that either. According to my studies, the world then faced a coronavirus pandemic,” he added.

This is not the first time that Van Ranst attributes the Russian flu not to a flu virus, but to a coronavirus. The coronavirus does not only present as the Covid-19 strain that is now spreading across the world, but is a group of viruses that cause respiratory tract infections that can range from mild to lethal in humans.

In 2005, he and his lab studied the OC43 virus, which today still accounts for 10-15% of all colds, especially the heavier respiratory tract infections.

“Our analyses traced the origin of the OC43 virus back to, coincidentally or not, around the year 1890. Then, in our opinion, the bovine coronavirus jumped over to humans,” Van Ranst said, adding that it is not clear if there was an intermediate link involved or not.

“So, it is very tempting to say that what we are experiencing now also happened in 1890. However, I do not have evidence, of course. You would have to examine lung material from a patient at that time,” Van Ranst said. “But I think it is a very plausible line of thinking,” he added.

Additionally, the history of the OC43 virus may give hope for the future of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. “The OC43 virus has been severely weakened. That does indeed make us hope that it will also happen like that now, but we do not yet know how fast that will go,” Van Ranst said.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

Latest news

Mayor wants to close two Brussels bars where alleged sexual assaults took place
Ixelles' Mayor Christos Doulkeridis (Ecolo) said that he’d like to close the two bars that employed a man accused of raping multiple patrons, ...
‘Untenable’: Mayor says situation at Brussels North station is out of control
The situation at Brussels North Station is no longer tenable, Schaerbeek's mayor Cécile Jodogne (Défi) says. Drug dealing, homelessness, ...
Suicide second-leading cause of death among European youth
Suicide is the number two killer among young people living in Europe, a recent Unicef report on the state of their mental health found. The ...
‘Too little, too late’: Brussels mayors criticise CST implementation
After a two week delay, the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) will become mandatory in several situations in Brussels from today (Friday). Some mayors blame a ...
Sciensano expert warns of rising Covid-19 cases this winter
The return of colder weather and the relaxing of health measures are giving rise to new Covid-19 contaminations and hospitalisations around Belgium, ...
Hospital food is making you sick, Belgian study shows
Eating hospital meals results in a measurable decline in health, according to a report from the Flemish television network VTM, which paints a ...
Belgium in Brief: Supply Issues
There are few things more jarring than walking into a store and finding that the shelves are empty, be that partially or otherwise. One thing ...
Stolen Magritte painting on display for first time in ten years
Surrealist painter René Magritte's work "Olympia", which made headlines across the world when it was stolen from a museum in Belgium in 2009, will be ...
Brussels airport pilots ’15 minute’ PCR test
Brussels Airport has announced that it will soon begin a trial of an ultra-fast PCR test able to detect Covid-19 in 15 minutes, a far faster ...
Over 1,000 demonstrators march in Brussels following sexual assault allegations
Around 1,300 people gathered in Ixelles on Thursday night to march against sexual violence, according to reporting from Bruzz. The march was ...
Covid Safe Ticket mandatory in Brussels, but no fines yet
The Brussels-Capital Region will expand the use of the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) from today (Friday), but it will take a few days before rule-breakers ...
Belgium hosts ‘farewell party’ for Merkel today
Angela Merkel will be in Belgium on Friday for an official visit as a symbolic "farewell" before leaving her position as German Chancellor after 16 ...