Scientists are suspiciously tracking every change in SARS-CoV-2, with dangerous looking mutations regularly appearing. On the long term, though, experts hope that the pathogen could prove less aggressive.
By Philip Bethge
Open eyes, hollow cheeks, a face torn by dread – Edvard Munch’s painting, “The Scream,” is an icon of horror.
Some experts believe its central figure is meant to be in the grips of an illness. The first version of the painting dates back to 1893, when the Russian flu had just spread around the world. The pandemic began in Central Asia in May of 1889. It spread to China, Russia and Europe via trade routes. The epidemic reached New York in December, arrived in Montreal in January of 1890, then made its way to South America, Australia, Borneo. Its symptoms included severe fever, headache, aching limbs and fatigue. An estimated 1 million people died worldwide.
The epidemic is widely believed to have been caused by a flu virus, but researchers working with Marc Van Ranst of the University of Leuven in Belgium have a different theory. They believe the pandemic was caused by a pathogen with the abbreviated name of HCoV-OC43. HCoV-OC43 is a coronavirus.
Genetic studies suggest that the pathogen jumped from cattle to people before – much like today’s SARS-CoV-2 – setting off a health crisis. Interestingly, HCoV-OC43 is still around today, as one of seven coronaviruses that can infect humans. But the killer has been tamed: These days, the virus causes only a mild cold.
Could the same happen to SARS-CoV-2?