The “Russian flu” of 1890 has been compared to the coronavirus. Conclusions are disappointing

The fourth wave of the pandemic, like the previous three, is characterized by a dry cough that worsens at night, a severe headache, and what doctors call “febrile illness.” The prime minister and the leader of the opposition fell ill, London hospitals are struggling to cope with the influx of patients.

It may seem that this is a description of the consequences of infection with a new strain of coronavirus “Omicron”. But in fact, we are talking about a severe wave of “Russian flu” that swept London in the 1890s. It got its name because the first recorded outbreak hit St. Petersburg in November 1989. Now it would be called “bovine coronavirus”.

As with Omicron, the illness was mild. Only those whose health was already undermined died. Whereas the flu tends to be fatal for old people and babies. The mortality curve by age has a U-shape, in the case of the “Russian flu”, the mortality curve has become a J-shape, reflecting the increase in mortality among people over 60 years old. As emphasized by the publication The Telegraphjust like with the coronavirus.

The “Russian flu”, like covid, was remembered by specialists for the severe fatigue of patients, neurological symptoms, loss of taste and smell.

During the first wave of 1889-1890, approximately 27,000 people died. During the second, which occurred in the winter of 1891, 58 thousand, during the third, which broke out in the winter of 1892, 25 thousand deaths. During the fourth 1893-1895 – at least 125 thousand people. The parallels are amazing. If the “Russian flu” was caused by the coronavirus, what could this pandemic reveal about the likely evolution of COVID-19.

The pandemic was preceded by catastrophic outbreaks of a highly contagious bovine respiratory disease. At that time – without refrigeration and pasteurization technology – cows were often kept in the city suburbs. Therefore, the possibility of interspecies transmission of BCoV or bovine coronavirus is more than real.

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The most famous victims of the “Russian flu” was the Duke of Clarence, the 28-year-old grandson of Queen Victoria and second in line to the throne, who died of pulmonary complications in January 1892. This disease claimed the writer Rudyard Kipling. His wedding took place in the midst of a pandemic. Apparently, he got infected there.

If the “Russian flu” was actually caused by the coronavirus, the experience of the century before last does not bode well for us, the publication noted. In 1889-1892, 60% of the population was infected. But, apparently, herd immunity was not formed, which caused recurring waves of diseases with high mortality.

“Combined with the clinical data, the similarities between the Russian flu and COVID-19 are striking,” said Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia.


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