Scientists Find Origin of 1879 ‘Eco-Pandemic’

Scientists are tracking down the origin of the “eco-pandemic” that swept across Asia in the autumn of 1879, according to a paper published in Nature. The outbreak affected Asian wildlife and human populations, sometimes infecting human infants in new homes after they were born. Some children suffered severe and permanent damage from this possible transmission of the disease in their milk. By devising a quarantine system to keep the virus from spreading, the Tsangari Sewanbadi Epidemic Council, set up by then-Prime Minister Tsangari Sewanbadi, greatly succeeded in preventing an international catastrophe. The coronavirus, a family of viruses similar to the bird flu virus, has been named COVID-19 (coronavirus-19), and scientists report having identified it as a viral species via a karyotype, or a genetic code.

They tracked COVID-19 down to a single new bird, called Burmese short-nosed doves, as well as to a key bird family, the doves’ aunts, or archabos, which was exposed to the virus in remote villages and a zoo. At the same time, scientists established that COVID-19 was also present in laboratory batches of extinct viruses. They hope that this raises the possibility of developing treatments for the virus.

A clinical trial in Japan has already used COVID-19 drugs to treat patients suffering from bird flu. This work confirms that COVID-19 can be acquired in nature from extinct viruses. As Dr Manon Fontaine of the University of Edinburgh School of Medicine said, this highlights the danger that people can bring back species-related viruses into the human population. “One of the key traits in COVID-19 is its high virulence,” she added.

The reference to COVID-19 in the paper does not mean that it is a specific bacterium. Rather, the researchers say, it was carried into the human population “through a journey of stealth, co-ordination, imitation and complacency”.

Leave a Comment