Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

On the Hunt for Samples

Some researchers are wondering whether a late 19th century pandemic might have been caused by a coronavirus, the New York Times writes.

It adds that that pandemic, dubbed the Russian flu, was a respiratory disease that emerged in 1889 and ended after three different waves, and that some people who became ill reported that they lost their sense of taster or smell and others reported fatigue that lasted after the illness. This, the Times notes, has some researchers wondering whether that pandemic could have been due to a coronavirus and whether it might have any lessons for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers tell the Times that the theory is "plausible" and "interesting speculation" but add that there is little data. That, it says, has sent some researchers rummaging through museum and medical school shelves to find old tissue samples to analyze, so far without success.

"The people running institutions in which they might be housed very likely would have no way to easily access records about them," Jeffrey Taubenberger from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has studied samples of the 1918 influenza pandemic, tells the Times. "Paradoxically, genetic analysis of these samples would be less difficult than locating them in the first place."