Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Morens and Taubenberger: A New Look At The Panzootic Of 1872




# 4995



One of the most fascinating events in relatively modern infectious disease history occurred in the fall of 1872, when a massive wave of (presumably) equine influenza swept across North American, infecting much of the horse population from Canada to Mexico – and killing up to 10%.


You’ll find an excellent history of this outbreak from


How equine flu brought the US to a standstill

A Boston fire wagon without its horses.

September 26, 2007


Australia's equine flu outbreak may have crippled the racing industry, but an 1872 outbreak in North America brought the entire US economy to a virtual standstill.

(Continue . . .)



This was at a time in history when horses were the primary means of transportation, and the economic effects of this months long epizootic were substantial, and some have suggested it contributed to the economic Panic of 1873 the following year.


Ian York author of the Mystery Rays blog wrote about this incident back in December of 2009 in a blog called Influenza before 1918, part II: 1872.  A brief excerpt:


Without horses, business slammed to a halt; the mail didn’t run, groceries didn’t reach the cities, crops weren’t harvested or transported.  After a few weeks, most of the horses recovered and business followed, but the epizootic swept across the country (intensely tracked by the newspapers of the day, warning each city in turn that it was going to be attacked), finally fizzling out the following summer in British Columbia.


Little remembered today, this was a huge story in 1972.  The assumption has been that this was sparked by some drift or shift in an already existing equine influenza.


But David Morens and Jeffrey K. Taubenberger of the NIH bring us tantalizing details of a concurrent outbreak of poultry deaths across the country, and that raises some interesting questions.


Without the ability to analyze and identify pathogens from that era, researchers are understandably hampered in their understanding of what exactly what transpired 140 years ago.  


But Taubenberger and Morens discuss a plausible scenario where a highly pathogenic avian virus may have jumped species and infected horses, pigs, deer, and in some cases, even humans.


My thanks to mixin on FluTrackers for posting this link.


Morens and Taubenberger (2010) An avian outbreak associated with panzootic equine influenza in 1872: an early example of highly pathogenic avian influenza? Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses 4(6), 373–377.


Background An explosive fatal epizootic in poultry, prairie chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese, occurred over much of the populated United States between 15 November and 15 December 1872. To our knowledge the scientific literature contains no mention of the nationwide 1872 poultry outbreak.

Objective To understand avian influenza in a historical context.

Results The epizootic progressed in temporal-geographic association with a well-reported panzootic of equine influenza that had begun in Canada during the last few days of September 1872. The 1872 avian epizootic was universally attributed at the time to equine influenza, a disease then of unknown etiology but widely believed to be caused by the same transmissible respiratory agent that caused human influenza.

Conclusions Another microbial agent could have caused the avian outbreak; however, its strong temporal and geographic association with the equine panzootic, and its clinical and epidemiologic features, are most consistent with highly pathogenic avian influenza. The avian epizootic could thus have been an early instance of highly pathogenic avian influenza.



Jeffrey  K. Taubenberger and David Morens are, of course,  familiar names to followers of influenza and virology.


Both are researchers at NIAID. Taubenberger, quite famously, was the first to sequence the the genome of the 1918 Spanish Flu virus while David Morens is a prominent medical historian and professor.


Both are extensively published, and have collaborated often in the past.


As this report is too good to try to summarize, I’ll simply suggest you follow this link and read it in its entirety.


Farmer said...

Really interesting. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

thank you.
I had no idea that such epidemic (1872) was possible.. :-)