Earlier ‘Russian flu’ that killed 700,000 may have come from lab leak in China

Earlier ‘Russian flu’ that killed 700,000 may have come from lab leak in China
Wuhan BSL4 lab, China. YouTube video

As Bret Stephens notes in the New York Times, “If it turns out that the Covid pandemic was caused by a leak from a lab in Wuhan, China, it will rank among the greatest scientific scandals in history: dangerous research, possibly involving ethically dubious techniques that make viruses more dangerous, carried out in a poorly safeguarded facility, thuggishly covered up by a regime more interested in propaganda than human life, catastrophic for the entire world.”

And this sort of leak seems to have happened in the past, causing pandemics that took many lives. That’s what John Sexton writes at Hot Air:

In 1977 a flu broke out in northeast China which eventually spread to Russia and then around the world. It eventually took the lives of approximately 700,000 people around the world most of whom were young. It came to be known as the “Russian flu” because Russia was the first country to report it to the WHO. Scientists who examined its DNA concluded it was nearly identical to a previous strain of the flu virus which had caused an outbreak between 1949 and 1950.

In nature, the flu doesn’t remain unchanged for 27 years as it circulates. So the fact that the “Russian flu” was nearly identical to the earlier strain eventually led to the conclusion that the Russian flu was likely the result of a lab leak or possibly a failed attempt to inoculate people with live attenuated virus. “In a research paper published in the journal Nature in 1978, a team of scientists from The City University of New York found that the 1977 virus was genomically similar to the 1950 virus — almost as though the viral evolution had been frozen in time.”

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…as this 2015 paper explains, a lab leak (or alternatively a failed immunization effort with live attenuated virus) is now considered the most likely explanation for the Russian flu as alternate explanations have been found to be unconvincing. Again, see if this doesn’t sound familiar…most experts now believe that the “Russian flu” of 1977 was caused by a virus which had been collected sometime around 1950, worked on in a lab and then essentially released back into the world by accident. The Russians and the Chinese denied having done any such thing and the WHO supported those denials at the time, but three decades later most scientists now believe the denials must be false.

In light of this, it was plausible for people like evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein to suggest the possibility that the virus leaked from a Chinese government lab, as Weinstein did a year ago.

Yet, the press unwisely dismissed this theory out of hand in 2020, without investigating it. As Bret Stephens asks,

Was it smart for science reporters to accept the authority of a February 2020 letter, signed by 27 scientists….feverishly insisting on the “natural origin” of Covid? Not if those reporters had probed the ties between the letter’s lead author and the Wuhan lab..

Was it wise to suppose that the World Health Organization, which has served as a mouthpiece for Chinese regime propaganda, should be an authority on what counted as Covid “misinformation” by Facebook, which in February banned the lab-leak theory from its platform?…To its credit, Facebook reversed itself last week. News organizations are quietly correcting (or stealth editing) last year’s dismissive reports.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for CNSNews.com and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at [email protected]


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