|Disease||Influenza or coronavirus disease (uncertain)|
|Virus strain||A/H3N8, A/H2N2, or coronavirus OC43 (uncertain)|
|First outbreak||Bukhara, Russian Empire|
|Suspected cases‡||300–900 million (estimate)|
|1 million (estimate)|
|‡Suspected cases have not been confirmed by laboratory tests as being due to this strain, although some other strains may have been ruled out.|
The 1889–1890 pandemic, often referred to as the "Asiatic flu" or "Russian flu", was a worldwide respiratory viral pandemic. It was the last great pandemic of the 19th century, and is among the deadliest pandemics in history. The pandemic killed about 1 million people out of a world population of about 1.5 billion (0.067% of population). The most reported effects of the pandemic took place from October 1889 to December 1890, with recurrences in March to June 1891, November 1891 to June 1892, the northern winter of 1893–1894, and early 1895.
Although contemporaries described the pandemic as influenza and twentieth-century scholars identified several influenza strains as the possible pathogen, some more recent authors suggest that it may have been caused by human coronavirus OC43.
Outbreak and spread
This section relies largely or entirely on a single source. (June 2022)
Modern transport infrastructure assisted the spread of the 1889 pandemic. The 19 largest European countries, including the Russian Empire, had about 200,000 km of railroads, and transatlantic travel by sea took less than six days (not significantly different from current travel time by air, given the timescale of the global spread of a pandemic). It was the first pandemic to spread not just through a region such as Eurasia, but worldwide.
The disease was first reported in the Central Asian city of Bukhara in the Russian Empire (modern Uzbekistan) in May 1889.[unreliable source?] The Trans-Caspian railway enabled it to spread farther into Samarkand by August, and Tomsk, 3,200 km away, by October. As the Trans-Siberian Railway had not yet been constructed, spread to the east was slower, but it reached the westernmost station of the Trans-Caspian, Krasnovodsk (now known as Türkmenbaşy), and from there the Volga trade routes, which carried it by November to Saint Petersburg (infecting 180,000 of the city's under one million inhabitants) and Moscow. By mid-November Kiev was infected, and the next month the Lake Baikal region was as well, followed by the rest of Siberia and Sakhalin by the end of the year.
From St. Petersburg, the infection spread via the Baltic shipping trade to Vaxholm in early November 1889, and then to Stockholm and the rest of Sweden, infecting 60% of the population within eight weeks. Norway, and then Denmark, followed soon after. The German Empire first received it in Posen in December, and on 12 November 600 workers were reported sick in Berlin and Spandau, with the cases in the city reaching 150,000 within a few days, and ultimately half of its 1.5 million inhabitants. Vienna was infected around the same time. Rome was reached by 17 December. The flu also arrived in Paris in December, and towards the end of the month had spread to Grenoble, Toulon, Toulouse and Lyon on the mainland, and Ajaccio on Corsica. At this point Spain was also infected, killing up to 300 a day in Madrid. It reached London at the same time, from where it spread quickly within Great Britain and Ireland to Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dublin.
The first case on American soil was reported on 18 December 1889. It then quickly spread throughout the East Coast and all the way to Chicago and Kansas in days. The first American death, Thomas Smith of Canton, Massachusetts, was reported on 25 December. San Francisco and other cities were also reached before the month was over, with the total US death toll at about 13,000. From there it spread to Mexico and to South America, reaching Buenos Aires by 2 February.
India received it in February 1890, and Singapore and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) did by March. These were followed by Japan, Australia, and New Zealand by April, and then China in May; the infection continued to spread, reaching its original starting point in Central Asia.
In four months it had spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Deaths peaked in Saint Petersburg on 1 December 1889, and in the United States during the week of 12 January 1890. The median time between the first reported case and peak mortality was five weeks. In Malta, the Asiatic flu took hold between January 1889 and March 1890, with a fatality rate of 4% (39 deaths), and a resurgence in January to May 1892 with 66 fatalities (3.3% case fatality). When this flu began, whether it was contagious was debated, but its quick action and pervasiveness across all climates and terrains proved that it was.
There was no standard treatment of flu; quinine and phenazone were used, as well as small doses of strychnine and larger ones of whisky and brandy, and as cheaper treatments linseed, salt and warm water, and glycerin. Many people also thought that fasting would 'starve' the fever, based on the belief that the body would not produce as much heat with less food; this was in fact poor medical advice. Furthermore, many doctors still believed in the miasma theory of disease rather than infectious spread; for example, notable professors of the University of Vienna, Hermann Nothnagel and Otto Kahler considered that the disease was not contagious.
A result of the Asiatic flu in Malta is that influenza became for the first time a compulsorily notifiable illness.
Identification of virus responsible
Researchers have tried for many years to identify the subtypes of Influenza A responsible for the 1889–1890, 1898–1900 and 1918 epidemics. Initially, this work was primarily based on "seroarcheology"—the detection of antibodies to influenza infection in the sera of elderly people—and it was thought that the 1889–1890 pandemic was caused by Influenza A subtype H2, the 1898–1900 epidemic by subtype H3, and the 1918 pandemic by subtype H1. With the confirmation of H1N1 as the cause of the 1918 flu pandemic following identification of H1N1 antibodies in exhumed corpses, reanalysis of seroarcheological data suggested Influenza A subtype H3 (possibly the H3N8 subtype) as a more likely cause for the 1889–1890 pandemic.
After the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak, virologists started sequencing human and animal coronaviruses. A comparison of two virus strains in the Betacoronavirus 1 species, bovine coronavirus and human coronavirus OC43, indicated that they had a most recent common ancestor in the late 19th century, with several methods yielding most probable dates around 1890. Authors speculated that an introduction of the former strain to the human population, rather than influenza, might have caused the 1889 epidemic.
In 2020, Danish researchers Lone Simonsen and Anders Gorm Pedersen noted that the clinical manifestations of the 1889 pandemic—runny nose, headache, high fever, severe chest inflammation, speeding up old respiratory diseases, and primarily killing elderly people—resembled COVID-19, a disease caused by a coronavirus, more than flu. They calculated that the human coronavirus OC43 had split from bovine coronavirus about 130 years before, approximately coinciding with the pandemic in 1889–1890. The calculation was based on genetic comparisons between bovine coronavirus and different strains of OC43. While their research had not been formally published as of November 2020[update], a team from the University of Leuven in Belgium performed a similar analysis of OC43, identifying a crossover date in the late 1800s.
In 2021, examination of contemporary medical reports noted that the clinical manifestations resembled those of COVID-19 rather than influenza, with notable similarities including multisystem disease, loss of taste and smell perception, and sequelae similar to long COVID and the commonality of central nervous system symptoms. Other scientists have pointed to the fact the mortality curve for Russian Flu is J-shaped as found in COVID-19 (little mortality in the very young, high mortality in the old), rather than the U-shaped mortality found in influenza infections (high mortality in the very young and very old). However, there is not a scientific consensus that the 1889–1890 outbreak was caused by a coronavirus, with one analysis of the literature suggesting that the evidence for this cause is still "conjectural".
Patterns of mortality
Unlike most influenza pandemics such as the 1918 flu, primarily elderly people died in 1889. Due to generally lower standards of living, worse hygiene, and poorer standard of medicine, the proportion of vulnerable people was higher than in the modern world.
- 1 January 1890 Henry R. Pierson
- 7 January 1890 Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach Dowager German Empress, Queen of Prussia
- 14 January 1890 Ignaz von Döllinger
- 15 January 1890 Walker Blaine
- 18 January 1890 Amadeo I of Spain
- 22 January 1890 Adam Forepaugh
- 22 February 1890 Bill Blair
- 12 March 1890 William Allen
- 26 March 1890 Afrikan Spir
- 23 May 1890 Louis Artan
- 19 July 1890 James P. Walker
- 14 August 1890 Michael J. McGivney
- 23 January 1891 Prince Baudouin of Belgium[a]
- 10 February 1891 Sofya Kovalevskaya
- 18 March 1891 William Herndon
- 5 May 1891 William Connor Magee
- 8 May 1891 Helena Blavatsky
- 15 May 1891 Edwin Long
- 3 June 1891 Oliver St John
- 9 June 1891 Henry Gawen Sutton
- 1 July 1891 Frederic Edward Manby
- 20 December 1891 Grisell Baillie
- 28 December 1891 William Arthur White
- 7 January 1892 Tewfik Pasha
- 8 January 1892 John Tay
- 10 January 1892 John George Knight
- 12 January 1892 Jean Louis Armand de Quatrefages de Bréau
- 14 January 1892 Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, grandson of Queen Victoria and second-in-line to the British throne
- 17 January 1892 Charles A. Spring
- 20 January 1892 Douglas Hamilton
- 12 February 1892 Thomas Sterry Hunt
- 15 April 1892 Amelia Edwards
- 5 May 1892 Gustavus Cheyney Doane
- 24 May 1892 Charles Arthur Broadwater
- 10 June 1892 Charles Fenerty
- 21 April 1893 Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby
- 2 July 1893 Georgie Drew Barrymore
- 7 August 1893 Thomas Burges
- 31 August 1893 William Cusins
- 15 December 1893 Samuel Laycock
- 16 December 1893 Tom Edwards-Moss
- 3 January 1894 Hungerford Crewe, 3rd Baron Crewe
- 24 January 1894 Constance Fenimore Woolson[b]
- 24 January 1894 Laura Schirmer Mapleson
- 14 March 1894 John T. Ford
- 19 June 1894 William Mycroft
- 19 February 1895 John Hulke
- 1 March 1895 Frederic Chapman
- 2 March 1895 Berthe Morisot
- 5 March 1895 Sir Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baronet
- 20 March 1895 James Sime
- 24 March 1895 John L. O'Sullivan
- 2 August 1895 Joseph Thomson
- Alexander III of Russia
- Alfonso XIII of Spain
- John Thomas Banks
- Marie François Sadi Carnot
- Charles I of Württemberg
- Edward VII
- Empress Elisabeth of Austria
- Archduke Ernst of Austria
- William Ewart Gladstone
- Maurice de Hirsch
- Johanna von Puttkamer
- Karl Ludwig of Austria
- Pope Leo XIII
- Maria Feodorovna
- Archduchess Marie Valerie of Austria
- Olga Nikolaevna of Russia
- Oscar I of Sweden
- Pierre Tirard
- Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury
- Edward Villiers, 5th Earl of Clarendon
- Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company – case in English contract law, concerning an advertisement of 1891 for a putative flu remedy
- Spanish flu
- Hong Kong flu
- 2009 swine flu pandemic
- COVID-19 pandemic
- Baudouin's death was officially attributed to influenza, although many rumors attributed it to other causes.
- Woolson fell from the window of her room while likely under the influence of laudanum, which she may have been taking to relieve symptoms of influenza.
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The Asiatic Flu of 1889–1890 was first reported in Bukhara, Russia
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The Asiatic flu killed roughly one million individuals
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Asiatic Flu 1889–1890 1 million
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1889-90 pandemic – The Asiatic Flu [...] by the end of March 1890. The case fatality rate approximated 4.0% [Table 1]. A resurgence of the infection became apparent in January–May 1892 with a total of 2017 reported cases and 66 deaths [case fatality rate 3.3%]
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Compulsory notification of infectious disease [...] Influenza was made a notifiable infection on the 20th January 1890 with the appearance of 1889-90, Asiatic Flu
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- "DEATH OF EGYPT'S RULER". The New York Times. 8 January 1892. Retrieved 30 July 2022.
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