“IN 1889, a disease outbreak in central Asia went global, igniting a pandemic that burned into the following year. It caused fever and fatigue, and killed an estimated 1 million people. The disease is generally blamed on influenza, and was dubbed “Russian flu“. But with no tissue samples to check for the flu virus, there is no conclusive proof.
Another possibility is that this “flu” was actually a coronavirus pandemic. The finger has been pointed at a virus first isolated in the 1960s, though today it causes nothing more serious than a common cold. In fact, there are four coronaviruses responsible for an estimated 20 to 30 per cent of colds. Only recently have virologists begun to dig into these seemingly humdrum pathogens and what they have found suggests the viruses have a far more deadly past. Researchers now believe that all four of these viruses began to infect humans in the past few centuries and, when they did, they probably sparked pandemics.
The parallels with our current crisis are obvious. And it turns out that our growing knowledge about these other coronaviruses could be vital in meeting the challenge of covid-19. Insights into the origins, trajectories and features of common cold coronaviruses can provide crucial clues about what to expect in the coming months and years. Understanding these relatively benign viruses may also help us avoid another pandemic. …”
“The severity of the schoolteacher’s condition would have come as a surprise to the researchers in the early 1960s who discovered 229E. That’s because they were looking for the viruses responsible for the common cold. By the mid-20th century, scientists had worked out techniques to isolate some viruses, but their research left many strains unaccounted for—about 35% of people with colds had viruses that scientists weren’t able to identify. …
While the discovery of novel coronaviruses like 229E and OC43 generated great media interest at the time—one article boldly proclaimed that “science has tripled its chance for eventually licking the common cold”—Dr. McIntosh recalls that the scientific community didn’t actively focus on investigating coronaviruses again until the emergence of SARS in 2003. Because 229E and OC43 caused relatively mild illnesses in people, doctors could treat them much like colds caused by other viruses: fever reducers, cough suppressants and the occasional bowl of chicken soup. …
Since then, two more coronaviruses that also cause colds—NL63 and HKU1—have been discovered. And it wasn’t until 2012—nearly 50 years after its discovery—that the complete genome of 229E was finally sequenced. In the meantime, a number of case reports were published showing that 229E could potentially cause severe respiratory symptoms in patients with compromised immune symptoms, though for most healthy people its impact is mostly limited to a cold.”
This makes sense.
The Spanish Flu was caused by an H1N1 virus. There are descendants of that virus and the 1968 influenza virus which still circulate today in less lethal forms. All that has happened with COVID-19 is the emergence of a new cold virus which will one day join the other four coronaviruses that cause the common cold once it too evolves into a less lethal form over time. The present is a window into the past.
INFLUENZA PANDEMICS, 1500-2009