New York Times article investigates the story of a Russian cover-up of the deadly Anthrax virus lab leak. It has renewed interest in the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and a possible Wuhan lab leak due to possible similarities. 

Russian Anthrax Outbreak

In April of 1979, dozens of people in Sverdlovsk, now called Ekaterinburg, suddenly came down with a mysterious illness. Many suffered from fevers, coughs, and vomiting. Four days later, the illness claimed its first victim, with the last victim dying six weeks later, according to PBS.

The Soviet government initially concluded that the deaths were caused by anthrax from contaminated meat. However, a full-fledged investigation conducted in the 1990s and an admission from then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin found the real source of the bacteria: a lab leak.

Professor Matt Meselson, an American scientist, found that the anthrax bacteria emerged from a military lab in the Soviet Union. Meselson, along with a group of Western scientists, found that the victims lived downwind from the military facility. The livestock located in the same area also died as a result of a leak of the anthrax pathogen, according to news published in the journal Science on April 22, 1988.

"I knew they were lying," Philip Russell, a now-retired Army infectious disease researcher, told the journal. "And I knew they were lying because I had been briefed on Defense Intelligence Agency evidence."

What is Anthrax?

Anthrax is a bacillus that has an active phase, in which it multiplies rapidly in the body. These spores give off fatal toxins and may be ingested with food. These were what Soviet scientists initially said.

Inhalatory anthrax, which Western scientists found to be the real cause of the devastating deaths, enters the body through inhalation. After they are inhaled, the bacteria travel to the lymph nodes and they multiply and release poisons that cause uncontrollable hemorrhaging.

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Anthrax can also enter a person's intestines and other organs where they can also cause serious damage.

During the 1979 outbreak, many of the victims who inhaled anthrax died within four days in their homes, in the streets, or in fields, according to.

COVID-19 Origins

In the New York Times story, Dr. Meselson said that it is "critical" to know how epidemics start because of geopolitics. Citing the Anthrax leak as an example, he said that it might still be an issue between Russia and Western countries if the cause had not been determined. He likens it to the current situation gripping the world: there origin of pandemic will cause tension with China while its source is regarded as suspicious. 

China's lack of cooperation and its efforts to control the access to data to investigators for the World Health Organization has also fueled speculations about how the SARS-COV-2 suddenly emerged from nowhere.

However, several studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic may have been the result of a natural spillover event, which happened without the involvement of the Wuhan lab. A study published on Nature noted that researchers at the WIV were studying RaTG13, a virus that shares 96% of its genome to SARS-COVID-2, before the initial outbreak.

Since the virus was identified, researchers from China and other southeast Asian countries also found clusters of RaTG13 from bats in their provinces.

President Joe Biden, along with other world leaders, has called intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the coronavirus and a potential lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

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