Lesson from history : Covid-19 will be with us for future generations

Interesting article in yesterday’s Sunday Times about a pandemic in 1890. This was the so called Russian Flu, which killed 125,000 in the UK and 1 million worldwide, and has uncanny similarities with the current pandemic. Symptoms reported by Doctors over 130 year ago included a dry cough, sudden fever and loss of smell. Some people had lingering symptoms such as fatigue and depression lasting for months similar to long Covid, and children were largely unaffected.

Many virologists now believe that the 1890 outbreak was not caused by flu, but was a coronavirus that jumped from cows to humans in much the same way that covid-19 is believed by some to have jumped from bats to humans. Others such as myself, believe there is a possibility that the current coronavirus escaped from a lab in Wuhan, which is currently under investigation by the US Government which will report in late August. So what can we learn from that crisis 130 years ago, whatever its source ? When was Russian Flu eradicated, what does it tell us about the current pandemic and when it will end ?

It started in 1890 and also hit the country in four large waves until 1894, with further sporadic outbreaks until 1900 when it fizzled out. However, that virus has never disappeared completely, and there is evidence from a Belgium study in 2005 that the Russian flu outbreak might have been caused by one of the coronaviruses that causes 20% of the common colds each year here in the UK. Some scientists believe that Covid-19 will follow a similar trajectory, a seasonal virus that becomes endemic and circulates every winter without causing serious problems. “Our grandchildren’s grandchildren are going to get covid , but it won’t be a big deal”.

So there we have it. In the 1890’s, it took 10 years to reach endemic status, but there were no vaccinations then. The vaccination programme has accelerated population immunity, and scientist’s views vary from between 3-5 years that it will take to reach endemic status in the UK. However, it will take 5-10 years to vaccinate the world’s population, and so outbreaks will continue somewhere in the World in my lifetime. Source: News Review Sunday Times July 25th 2021.

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