To better understand what caused the outbreak of Covid-19, we must go back to what we know about the coronavirus, and its more serious appearances in our recent history: Russian flu, SARS-CoV1 and MERS-CoV.
The Mysterious “Russian Flu” of 1890
According to recent studies carried out in 2003-2004, it is probable that a pandemic due to a coronavirus dates from the end of the 19th century. It was likened until then to an H2N2 virus, or to a flu. Between 1889 and 1994, from a deadly outbreak in the city of St. Petersburg, it would kill around one million people worldwide. Respiratory virus, it is then called the “Russian flu” or “influenza”. Physicians are beginning to properly document cases, providing much-needed material for modern epidemiological investigation. They detect respiratory and cardiac symptoms similar to those caused by the coronavirus. Severe forms mainly include elderly or corpulent people, unlike influenza which can seriously affect any individual.
The surprising arrival of SARS-CoV 1 in 2002
11 cases of severe pneumonia were counted in December 2002. A chain of contamination was created, via a “superspreader”, an actor who triggered wide dissemination. The individual in question is in a hotel in Hong Kong, reported by travelers from around the world. The coronavirus responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerged in late 2002 in China and quickly spread to 30 countries, causing a worldwide epidemic. There are nearly 800 deaths out of 8,000 cases in a few months. But unlike the current SARS-CoV 2, SARS-CoV 1 has the particularity of causing symptoms quickly, which makes it possible to channel and prevent wide spread.
MERS-CoV, in 2012
The main animal reservoir at the origin of this emergence in humans is the dromedary. As of December 9, 2014, 918 cases of MERS-CoV infections and 331 deaths had been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). Lethality is 36%. Saudi Arabia is the country that has reported the highest number of cases (819 cases).
Three recent coronavirus outbreaks, three pandemic possibilities. The fourth has been known to us since December 2019. Its extremely rapid emergence in Wuhan appears to be an epidemiological anomaly and is now questioning the scientific community.
An original podcast in 4 episodes, narrated by epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux, author of The wave. The epidemic seen from the field, published by CNRS editions.
Directed by: Eric Lancien. Program Advisor: Camille Renard. INA documentalist: Delphine Desbiens. Thanks to Martine Piarroux.