Coronavirus History

The coronavirus, as a pandemic, has changed our lives in so many ways. However, this isnt the first time scientists and doctors have seen iterations of this disease.

Photo by Mika Baumeister | Unsplash

The coronavirus, as a pandemic, has changed our lives in so many ways. However, this isn’t the first time scientists and doctors have seen iterations of this disease.

Sydney Trebus, Business Manager

The coronavirus has proven its impact on communities across the globe through its ability to spread easily, quickly and efficiently. It has left communities with few resources and limited solutions, and many countries have implemented nationwide  quarantines, stay at home orders and even city-wide lockdowns. While knowledge of our current situation is important, a lot can be gained from understanding of the history behind the coronavirus.

Many people became aware of the coronavirus as it became an international pandemic; however, this is not the first time it has been seen in the scientific community. The coronavirus first made a major impact in the year 2003 according to the CDC website, followed by another outbreak in the year 2012. However, as we look even farther back into history, the coronavirus can be seen making its first appearances in the 1930s and 1940s through animals. These outbreaks, while ending in death for some, were not nearly as bad as the one we are experiencing now, originating from Wuhan, China. 

Beginning in 1930, the coronavirus was discovered to be a respiratory infection in chickens, caused by the infectious bronchitis virus, also known as the Avian Coronavirus. The outbreak originated in Turkey and led to performance issues in meat and egg-producing chickens, which in turn led to a major economic loss within the poultry industry. Chickens were impacted by the disease through respiratory distress, kidney failure and reproductive changes. There are now both attenuated vaccines, weakend versions of the virus, and inactivated vaccines, killed versions of the virus, to protect against the Avian Virus.

Following this outbreak, two more coronavirus outbreaks, known as the Mouse Hepatitis Virus (The Murine Coronavirus) and the Transmissible Gastroenteritis Virus (TGEV) respectively,  ensued in the 1940s, impacting mice and pigs. The Murine Coronavirus, carried by mice and spread through human fleas, was characterized by high mortality and was usually found in groups of laboratory mice. Similarly, the TGEV infects pigs, usually of aged one week or younger, with a mortality rate of about 100 percent. TGEV multiplies in the cell lining of the small intestine and eventually reduces the capability of digestion, leading to dehydration and, eventually, death. Both viruses were eventually isolated and contained, preventing further loss; however, at the time, scientists did not realize the animal cases were related.

The first human who contracted coronavirus was identified in 1960; they presented symptoms of a common cold. Since then, variations of the human coronavirus have been identified, all including issues dealing with the respiratory tract. Most recently, the coronavirus has been identified in three different forms over the past 20 years, impacting our world in various amounts. 

In 2002, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) originated in Asia, causing an outbreak of the disease. The disease infected 8,000 people and killed 10 percent of them. The symptoms are very similar to those of the virus we are experiencing now, including high fever and common flu-like symptoms. The virus did not have a vaccine, but doctors suggested simple tasks such as washing hands, disinfecting surfaces, not touching faces and not sharing food with others. The virus outbreak began in China in 2002 and spread to 24 other countries across the world before being contained by the CDC in 2003, an outbreak that resultedin 744 deaths total. There have since been cases of SARS in China, but because of doctor’s acute awareness of the disease, they have prevented other large outbreaks.

Following that, in 2012 a new type of virus was identified in Saudi Arabia called the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS). The virus had many similar symptoms to that of the previous outbreak in 2002, including coughing, sore throat, shortness of breath, and in some cases vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. Doctors suggested taking similar precautions as those for the SARS outbreak. As time passed, the SARS virus traveled to more continents and countries, but no vaccine was ever found. 

While it is unfortunate that we were unable to solve the issue prior to the most recent major outbreak over the past six months, it is important to reflect on the research doctors and scientists have done during previous periods of outbreak. Our knowledge can only broaden as we work to solve this major issue across the world.