Red Cross Mobile Corps on duty during the global influenza epidemic, St. Louis, Missouri, October 1918
Spanish flu
the largest pandemic in human history
The Spanish flu epidemic, which ravaged the world in 1918-1920, went down in history not only because of the huge number of people who fell ill, but also because of the exceptionally high mortality rate. It killed more people than World War I and, by some accounts, more than the two world wars combined.

Despite the name, the disease did not originate in Spain — it was simply the first country to publicly announce the pandemic to the world. The epidemic began at the height of World War I, and its main participants — Germany, Austria, France, Great Britain, and Russia — sought to conceal the scale of the disease in order to avoid panic. Spain maintained its neutrality, so it did not consider it necessary to gloss over the problem.

Masked American soldiers marching through the streets of Seattle before being sent to France. December 1918
Masked American soldiers marching through the streets of Seattle before being sent to France. December 1918

By May 1918, 8 million people, or 39 percent of the population, including King Alfonso XIII, had contracted the flu in Spain. The government imposed a special regime: all schools were closed, public meetings were forbidden, entering public transport without a gauze bandage was not allowed.

As it turned out much later, the disease began at a U.S. military base in Kansas. “Patient Zero” was Albert Gitchell, a cook who had contracted the H1N1 strain of the flu virus while butchering a pig. On the morning of March 11, 1918, he felt a sore throat, weakness, and malaise. With a fever near 40, he was sent to the isolation ward. By noon there were more than a hundred patients in the hospital with the same symptoms — they had contracted the disease by eating the dinner Hitchell had prepared the night before.

Hospitals were overcrowded, and soldiers with less severe flu symptoms were sent on to fight. At the front, American soldiers infected with “Spanish flu” members of the military contingents of all the other Entente members: the French, Russians, British, and numerous subjects of the vast British empire — Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Indians. When hostilities ended, they began to go home, taking the deadly virus with them.

The pandemic seriously affected the course of the war, but to an even greater extent the war influenced the development of the pandemic. The constant movement of large masses of people between cities and countries, physical and mental exhaustion, hunger, difficult living conditions, and lack of timely medical care all contributed to the rapid development of the disease.

The virus mutated rapidly, causing the disease to take the most severe forms. Sometimes it took only two days from infection to death.

In order to prevent influenza, Army sleeping areas began to be set up in training halls and mess halls.
                                Naval Training Base, San Francisco, 1918
In order to prevent influenza, Army sleeping areas began to be set up in training halls and mess halls. Naval Training Base, San Francisco, 1918
A group of mask-wearing activists with a placard saying
A group of mask-wearing activists with a placard saying “Put on a mask or go to jail.” California, 1918.

The Spanish flu pandemic was increasing: the first wave occurred in the spring and summer of 1918, the second in the fall of that year, and the third in February-March 1919.

The “Spanish flu” epidemic did not end until 1920.

A temporary hospital for the treatment of influenza patients. Massachusetts, 1918.
A temporary hospital for the treatment of influenza patients. Massachusetts, 1918.
Gargling the throat with salt water to prevent the flu. New Jersey, 1918
Gargling the throat with salt water to prevent the flu. New Jersey, 1918
Japanese schoolgirls in protective masks, 1919
Japanese schoolgirls in protective masks, 1919
Patients waiting for an appointment at a hospital in Ryazan Province, 1928
Health education for the masses

In the 1920s and 30s, very little was known about viruses. Doctors did not distinguish between viral and bacterial infections, and there was no effective treatment for viral diseases.

In the USSR, one of the most effective ways to fight infections was considered sanitary education.

To educate the people on sanitation and hygiene, a large number of brochures and leaflets were published on the then-new disease — influenza, as well as the “old” and well-known, but no less dangerous — tuberculosis, syphilis, rabies. Healthy lifestyle and personal hygiene were actively promoted.
Type of mounted poster
Type of mounted poster
The education was conducted in the form of questions and answers.
What contributes to the spread of contagious diseases?
Dirt in the apartment, sleeping rough, insufficient ventilation of living and working areas.
The play “Twilight of the City”. Scene in the Venereological Dispensary
Who is most at risk of getting sick?
People who abuse alcoholic beverages.
Type of campaign poster
What can I do to protect myself from infection?
 — No breathing in each other’s faces.
 — Don’t spit or flick seeds on the floor at home, on the street, or in public places.
 — Sleep in a separate bed.
 — Wipe with a separate towel and use separate utensils.
 — Wash your hands and face thoroughly when you get home from work.
 — Wash your hands before you eat.
 — Keep your clothes clean.
 — Do not drink alcoholic beverages.
 — Cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief when sneezing or coughing.
Type of one-shot poster
Type of multi-moment poster
Type of mounted poster

Komsomol members should read these rules loudly to illiterate peasants at the village meeting, and after reading them, start a conversation.

It was also recommended to perform ditties “by two women or a woman and a man, better with an accordion or balalaika.

For example, such as:
In both ears, in both eyes
Listen to my song.
I’ve got a disease on my hands,
I’ll sing my ditties.
Deploying the van exhibition
Inspection of the van exhibition
Surprisingly enough, it worked: in the 1920s and 1930s, the incidence and mortality of infectious diseases, including viral diseases, decreased significantly in the USSR.
Exit of the population from the infected area by the planking
Image in the microscope
Is it possible to see the virus under a microscope
At the end of the 19th century, Russian scientist Dmitry Ivanovsky experimentally proved the existence of microorganisms, later called viruses.

It took mankind several more decades to see viruses. Viruses are so small (20 to 300 nanometers) that it only became possible to see them with the invention of the electron microscope in 1932.

In 1935, American biochemist and virologist Wendell Stanley was able to see with an electron microscope what the tobacco mosaic virus, discovered by Ivanovsky back in 1892, looked like.

An electron microscope with a maximum magnification of up to a million times made it possible not only to see viruses but also to study their structure and the process of their vital activity: introduction into the host cell, reproduction, cell death, etc.

Electron microscope
Electron microscope
By observing viruses under an electron microscope, scientists have found that the appearance and shape of viruses vary greatly, from regular spheres to complex structures. For example, the Ebola hemorrhagic fever virus resembles bristle worms, while the rabies virus looks like a tube-shaped shell.
Influenza virus
Influenza virus
Ebola virus
Ebola virus
Smallpox virus
Smallpox virus
Hepatitis B virus
Hepatitis B virus
Rabies virus
Rabies virus
In 1986, the German physicist Gerd Binnig and his colleagues created the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM). With its help, it became possible for the first time to observe in real time the processes taking place inside a cell, including the introduction of a virus into it.
Atomic force microscope
Atomic force microscope

The project was worked on by

Author, Producer and Project Manager

Georgy Avanyan


Vladislav Kulakov


Elena Kuklina

author group

  • Viktor Kamenchenko
  • Dmitry Lipkin
  • Elena Matza
  • Sergey Shaulov


  • Alexandra Tertitskaya
  • Alsu Guzairova
  • Julia Baklanova

Scientific leader of the project
“How Dostoevsky Conquered the World”

Pavel Fokin

Film crew leader

Natalia Makarova

design and development

Pixeljam Studio

Art director

Alexander Grigoriev

Dmitry Udovichenko
Dmitry Orlov


Video “Man Marey” based on the story of the same name by F.M. Dostoevsky


Roman Chaliapin


Alexander Hunt

Filmed at F.M. Dostoyevsky’s memorial estate “Darovoye”.


Valeria Konyukhova

Dmitry Lvov was interviewed by

Petr Kamenchenko

The work on the project involved

Varvara Romanenko, Alexei Taranin, Viktor Koreshev, Georgy Kulikov, Natalia Bogoyavlenskaya, Anna Kravtsova, Maxim Makarov, Maxim Mikheev, Yuri Orlov, Elena Vasyova, Vladimir Derevyanko, Konstantin Batrakov, Vladimir Morozov, Yuri Podgorbunsky, Maxim Samborsky, Roman Malyshev, Andrei Sosnovsky, Andrei Tavolzhansky, Elena Fokina, Valeria Borscheva, Alexei Igoshev, Ilya Maskileyson, Egor Lisovoy, Nikolai Pigarev, Maxim Smirnov, Vladislav Ikonnikov, Vladimir Borisov, Yuri Grishin, Arthur Salihov, Mikhail Tatyanin

We thank Russian Copper Company for the filming possibility at Kyshtym Copper Electrolyte Plant, Karabash Copper Smelting Plant and Mikheevsky GOK

Illustrations have been provided:

  • Russian State Archives of Film and Photo Documents
  • State Museum of the History of Russian Literature. V.I. Dal
  • Russian Copper Company
  • Shutterstock

How Russia and the USSR fought viruses and defeated many of them

Every year up to 14 million people worldwide die of diseases caused by viral infections. there is no cure for most of these diseases. The fight against viruses has been one of the most urgent tasks facing science throughout the xx century. In the new century, the importance of this fight has only increased.

Why fight viruses

Infectious diseases have often brought mankind to the brink of survival. Eighty percent of these diseases are viral. In the 18th century, smallpox killed up to 1.5 million people annually in Europe (one of its victims was the Russian Emperor Peter II, who died in 1730). In the 1920s, viral influenza, known as “Spanish flu,” killed about 50 million people. In the early twentieth century, a polio epidemic engulfed Europe and North America — it was not defeated until the 1950s.

Mankind continues to be plagued by new viruses or mutated old ones. It is difficult to cope with them, despite the tremendous progress of science.

The Ebola virus was discovered in the late 1970s, and a vaccine for it did not become available until 2019.

Viruses may no longer be able to destroy humanity as a species, but they can challenge modern civilization, as happened in 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic, when life around the world was virtually paralyzed for months simply because a random person in a distant obscure Chinese city had a bad lunch of raw pangolin bought at the local market. And there is no guarantee that something similar will not happen again.

How a virus works
How a virus works

The most important of sciences

Viruses are one of the oldest forms of life on Earth. They exist wherever there are living cells and probably appeared simultaneously with them.

Viruses know no borders, they do not care what race, nationality or social group their victims belong to. There are hundreds of millions of viruses, about a thousand of them are accurately described, including the most dangerous and deadly ones: HIV, hepatitis, avian and swine flu, Ebola fever, coronavirus SARS-CoV-2…

Virology is designed to keep us safe from terrible diseases and epidemics, and it succeeds. The fight against viruses does not stop for a minute: new viruses and mutations of known ones are investigated, vaccines are created and mass vaccinations are carried out, saving millions of lives. The forces are largely unequal — no one can predict the behavior of viruses and their evolution, but science is already able to detect them, study them and create a mechanism of protection against them in a fairly short time. Virology is the barrier that protects us from the darkest forces of nature, and it is hard to imagine what would happen if we were left alone with viruses.

How Professor Ivanovsky discovered viruses in 1892

It happened almost by accident, as is often the case with many brilliant discoveries.
Dmitry Iosifovich Ivanovsky
While working at St. Petersburg University, the young scientist Dmitry Ivanovsky investigated the causes of tobacco mosaic, a disease that was destroying tobacco plantations in southern Russia. He assumed that it was caused by some kind of microbe, but he could not detect it by any of the means known at the time.
A Tobacco Plantation in Southeast Asia
A Tobacco Plantation in Southeast Asia

The scientist passed the sap of the diseased tobacco leaves through a porcelain filter, which has very fine pores and retains all bacteria. He then transferred the resulting substance to the healthy plants, and soon they became ill with tobacco mosaic.

Ivanovsky found out that if you heat the juice to 60-70 degrees, the disease does not occur. This unequivocally pointed to the living nature of the pathogen.

Tobacco mosaic virus
Tobacco mosaic virus

In 1892, Ivanovsky published a scientific article “On Two Diseases of Tobacco” in the journal “Agriculture” with a detailed description of his experiments proving the existence of microorganisms much smaller in size than bacteria. The term “virus” did not exist then, and the scientist called them “mini-microbes. From this publication it is customary to trace the emergence of a new science: virology.

The term “mini-microbes” was in use until we found the short and familiar to our ear term “viruses”. In Latin, virus means “poison”.

In 1935, American scientist Wendell Stanley first isolated the tobacco mosaic virus.

It was not until 1939, after the invention of the electron microscope, that they were able to see the virus.

Wendell Stanley
Wendell Stanley

In 1946, Stanley won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for obtaining viral proteins in their pure form. Ivanovsky’s assumption about the protein nature of viruses, made half a century before, turned out to be correct.

Stanley believed that Dmitri Ivanovsky’s contribution to science was commensurate with that of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. He wrote:

There is considerable reason to consider Ivanovsky the father of a new science, virology.
What else Russian and Soviet virologists have discovered
After many important discoveries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, virology began to play a decisive role in the fight against epidemics and pandemics. Russian and Soviet scientists made enormous contributions to the formation of this science.
Sergei Petrovich Botkin

Sergei Petrovich Botkin

In 1888 he first suggested the infectious nature of hepatitis, later called Botkin’s disease.

Nikolai Fedorovich Gamaleya

Nikolai Fedorovich Gamaleya

In 1886, with the assistance of Louis Pasteur, he carried out the first mass vaccination against rabies in Russia. In 1918, using the smallpox vaccine he developed, general vaccination against smallpox was carried out in Petrograd and then throughout the country.

Mikhail Akimovich Morozov

Mikhail Akimovich Morozov

In 1925 he described the elementary bodies of smallpox virus and later developed a dry smallpox vaccine. He was one of the creators of the smallpox eradication program, thanks to which smallpox was eradicated in the USSR by 1936. Author of the fundamental “Atlas of Virus Morphology”.

Lev Alexandrovich Zilber

Lev Alexandrovich Zilber

In 1939 he discovered the viral nature of tick-borne encephalitis and developed an effective system of prevention of this disease. In 1944 he was the first to suggest the viral nature of oncological diseases.

Mikhail Petrovich Chumakov

Mikhail Petrovich Chumakov

He discovered and researched viruses of Omsk hemorrhagic fever, Crimean hemorrhagic fever and many others. In 1959 he was the first in the world to organize the production and clinical trials of polio vaccine, which allowed to eliminate polio in the USSR in a few years.

Victor Mikhailovich Zhdanov

Victor Mikhailovich Zhdanov

He was one of the authors of the 1958 Global Smallpox Eradication Program, which virtually eliminated smallpox from the world by 1980. Author of fundamental works on infectious hepatitis, influenza, evolution of infectious diseases, classification of viruses, and problems of molecular biology of viruses.

Anatoly Alexandrovich Smorodintsev

Anatoly Alexandrovich Smorodintsev

Author of more than 600 scientific papers on tick-borne encephalitis, hemorrhagic nephrozoonephritis, poliomyelitis, measles, epidemic parotitis, influenza, antiviral immunity, methods of prevention of viral infections. In the late 1960s, he developed vaccines against tick-borne encephalitis, epidemic mumps, measles, poliomyelitis, and influenza.

Dmitry Konstantinovich Lvov

Dmitry Konstantinovich Lvov

The long-time head of the D.I. Ivanovsky Institute of Virology of the Russian Academy of Sciences is the world’s leading scientist in the field of virus ecology, author of fundamental works on pandemics of avian influenza and influenza A.

How the virus affects a person
How the virus affects a person

Which viruses are the most dangerous and which organs they affect



Rabies is one of the most dangerous diseases. The pathogen is transmitted through the saliva when a sick animal bites a person. In the case of a bite, immediate administration of an anti-rabies vaccine is necessary. Incubation period of the disease is one to three months. Once clinical symptoms appear, it is impossible to save the patient.

Tick-borne encephalitis

The disease is transmitted by ticks. It was discovered and studied in the late 1930s. It is widespread in Russia. Incubation period is 1-2 weeks. Effective treatment currently used usually leads to complete recovery.

Spinal cord
Spinal cord


Caused by poliovirus, transmitted from person to person. Most people who fall ill are children. The death rate from polio is low, but the consequences are terrible — paralysis and lifelong disability for an infected child. Thanks to a worldwide vaccination program, polio has been eradicated almost everywhere in the world except Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The circulatory system
The circulatory system

Hemorrhagic fever

The pathogen belongs to the arbovirus group (carried by arthropods — ticks and mosquitoes). The reservoir of the virus is rodents. The disease has a severe course, with fever and intoxication, coagulation disorders, hemorrhagic rash. Clots form in the blood vessels. Toxins of the virus affect the central and autonomic nervous systems. Timely treatment leads to recovery of the patient.

Upper respiratory tract
Upper respiratory tract


The disease has been known since ancient times. To date, more than two thousand varieties of influenza virus have been isolated. It is highly contagious, easily transmitted from person to person, causing epidemics and pandemics. Severe influenza pandemics occur three to four times a century. There is no effective treatment for influenza. Immunity develops only to the type of virus a person has already had. Most epidemics occur in Southeast Asia, from where the flu spreads around the world.


Mostly children get the disease. It is extremely contagious and spreads from person to person. The disease runs with fever, catarrh (inflammation) of the upper respiratory tract, and a rash. A severe complication is croup: severe swelling of the throat with respiratory problems. In Russia, it is mandatory to vaccinate all children under the age of one and a half years against measles.



In the most severe cases, patients develop viral pneumonia. The virus affects the lower parts of the respiratory tract  — the bronchi and alveoli. In contrast to conventional pneumonia, the disease develops rapidly, affects both lungs and runs extremely severe. High mortality rate in COVID-19 coronavirus is due to the development of viral pneumonia.


Coxsackie virus

The virus is named after a small town in the United States where it was discovered in 1949. Infection occurs through contaminated food, water, and person-to-person airborne droplets. The virus affects the heart muscle as well as the lining of the heart. Children are most susceptible to the disease. In the 21st century, epidemics have been reported in Malaysia, Greece and Eastern China.


Viral hepatitis A, B and C

Hepatitis A virus (Botkin’s disease, jaundice) enters the body with contaminated food. Hepatitis B and C viruses come from blood transfusions and blood products, tattoos, piercings, and sexual intercourse. Clinical manifestations of hepatitis A, B, and C are different, but in all cases liver cells are affected. Chronic hepatitis leads to cirrhosis of the liver.

Digestive organs
Digestive organs

Enterovirus infection

The virus causes acute intoxication and affects the central nervous system, muscles and skin. Children are particularly susceptible to enterovirus infection, among them the disease often takes the form of epidemics. In recent years, local epidemics in which all children living in a particular place can become ill have been reported in Turkey. The disease is highly contagious and enters the body with food and through human-to-human contact.


Hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome

One of the most dangerous types of hemorrhagic fever. In the acute period of the disease, spontaneous kidney rupture can occur, and acute renal failure can develop, leading to coma.

Skin and mucous membranes
Skin and mucous membranes

Black pox

One of the most terrible diseases. Transmitted from person to person, it is extremely lethal. Archaeologists believe that at least three ancient civilizations died completely as a result of smallpox epidemics. At present, the disease is considered completely defeated. The last case was recorded in 1977 in Somalia.


Transmitted from person to person. After entering the body, herpes virus stays in it for life, but it may not show itself in any way. Activates when the body is suddenly weakened: hypothermia, colds, infections. It affects the mucous membranes: lips, mouth cavity, genitals, as well as the skin. In severe cases, the eyes and brain membranes are affected.


A widespread disease that affects mainly children. Transmitted from person to person through the upper respiratory tract. It occurs with high fever and abundant rash on the skin and mucous membranes. After the disease may leave characteristic skin defects. It is more severe in adults.

Foot-and-mouth disease

It affects the mucosa of the mouth and nose as well as the skin of the hands. People become infected by contact with sick animals and through raw food. The disease runs a high fever and causes painful sores on the mucous membranes. It is not transmitted from person to person.

All organs
All organs

Ebola hemorrhagic fever

A rare but extremely dangerous disease common in Central and West Africa. The name comes from the African river of the same name. In addition to humans, primates (monkeys) are also affected. It is transmitted from animals and from person to person. It was discovered in 1976. It begins with fever and intoxication, and is very severe. Lethality rate exceeds 50 per cent. A single case of Ebola was recorded in Russia in 2004.

Where viruses came from and how they evolved
Dmitry Lvov, director of the D.I. Ivanov Institute of Virology (1987-2014), tells us. D.I. Ivanovsky Institute of Virology (1987-2014), Head of the Center for Ecology of Infectious Diseases of Viral Nature
Academician Dmitry Lvov
Is it possible to see the virus under a microscope
Viruses are so small that it is impossible to see them with an optical microscope — only with an electron microscope.

How viruses were fought in the USSR

While the USSR was emerging on the ruins of the Russian Empire, epidemics of viral diseases were claiming millions of lives around the world.

Virology as a science was just emerging, and its capacity for preventing and controlling epidemics and pandemics was not too great. But by the end of the 1920s, the USSR already had special laboratories, educational institutions, and a pleiad of young virologists who successfully solved the most pressing scientific problems of the time.

The status of virology in the USSR has always remained invariably high, which allowed not only the creation of several authoritative scientific schools, but also the management of many severe viral diseases.

Flu epidemics in Russia in the 1920s

The first major epidemic occurred in the RSFSR in the 1918-1920s — it was the Spanish flu. It went almost unnoticed — the Soviet authorities simply did not care about it.

The medical, epidemiological, and sanitary services of tsarist Russia no longer existed, and new ones had not yet been established. No records of morbidity and mortality were kept, causes of death were not established and recorded, and communication between different parts of the country was absent or extremely difficult.

Against the background of the Civil War, epidemics of typhoid and typhus, tuberculosis, cholera, and dysentery, “Spanish flu” was virtually ignored in Soviet Russia.

The next large-scale influenza epidemic came to the USSR in 1926-1927. Very little is known about it.

Examination of the homeless in the hospital. Saratov, 1923.
Examination of the homeless in the hospital. Saratov, 1923.
Moscow, Kuznetsky Most Street, 1925
Moscow, Kuznetsky Most Street, 1925
Spanish flu
The largest pandemic in human history

According to periodicals of those years, during the first wave in February 1926 in Moscow, the flu sick to 12 thousand people a week — sick in almost every family or apartment.

There is no exact data on mortality, but it was apparently high.

For the second wave of the epidemic in February-March 1927, the authorities had time to prepare thoroughly.

There was no effective treatment for influenza, so the main emphasis was on prevention, sanitary and epidemiological protection, and public health education.

Medical attendant inoculating against smallpox in a village in Altai, 1930
Medical attendant inoculating against smallpox in a village in Altai, 1930
Patients waiting for an appointment at a hospital in Ryazan Province, 1928
One of the most effective ways to combat epidemics in the USSR was to educate the masses about health.

The discovery of tick-borne encephalitis in 1937

In May 1937, one of the most respected Soviet virologists, Lev Zilber, went on an expedition to the Far East to investigate an unknown disease that was killing Red Army soldiers living in military tent camps located right in the taiga.

Gulag camps were located in the same areas. Prisoners were engaged in hard physical labor — felling wood and building roads. The death rate was high there as well.

An infectious disease discovered as early as the early 1930s, it affected the central nervous system and caused mass deaths. At first it was thought to be a toxic flu. In 1935, physician A.G. Panov defined the disease as encephalitis, but its origin remained unclear.

In his memoirs Zilber wrote: “When the People’s Commissariat for Health formed the expedition, it wanted to make a complex group, which was to have 10 professors. I resolutely refused to participate in this expedition and said that one thing or I take all responsibility and form the expedition, or arrange as you see fit. After a big talk I was refused. But the Military Sanitary Directorate was keenly interested in fighting encephalitis…, appealed to the Commissar of Defense, and by his direct order I headed the expedition on my own initiative. I could choose anybody to join this expedition and work as we saw fit… I took only young people, and I did it quite deliberately. …They were not bound by old misconceptions about the disease.

Formation of Red Army soldiers in a military camp, 1930s
Formation of Red Army soldiers in a military camp, 1930s
Sentry in a military camp, 1938
Sentry in a military camp, 1938

Silber was to find out the nature and causes of the unknown disease. Three scientific plans for its study were developed in detail. From the case histories found in the small hospital of the local timber company, it was possible to find out that the disease had a clearly pronounced seasonality. As a rule, only people who had worked or been in the taiga got sick with it in spring. The version that it was Japanese encephalitis transmitted by mosquito bites fell away — there were no mosquitoes carrying Japanese encephalitis virus in this area in spring.

The discovery was facilitated by a detailed conversation with one of the patients, who was infected in an incomprehensible way for doctors: she had no contact with other patients. In the conversation, the woman mentioned that before she got sick she went to the taiga and, when she came back, she pulled ticks off herself.

Lev Zilber recalled:
This single fact, which could be associated with her illness, naturally attracted my attention. I flew to Vladivostok to learn at least a little something about ticks (I didn’t understand anything about them then)… There they helped me, though only with literature, and I found in the work of one veterinarian a curve of tick bite of cows, which coincided perfectly with the curve of increase of the disease in people, only with a delay of two weeks; clearly, it was an incubation period.
Encephalitis tick
Encephalitis tick

The likelihood of tick-borne disease seemed so obvious that immediate action was taken to prevent encephalitis. Specialist doctors were sent to those who regularly worked in the taiga and were in the risk group to warn them about the need to protect themselves from tick bites. The measures turned out to be effective: the number of those who fell ill dropped sharply.

Experimental testing was also successful, there was no doubt — ixodes ticks are carriers of the disease.

Zilber’s expedition accomplished the task of national importance in just three months. Tick-borne encephalitis was thoroughly studied, and from the blood serum taken from those who had contracted the disease, a drug was created to help those who had not yet been infected with encephalitis develop immunity to the disease.

After their return, the expedition members were presented with state awards, while Lev Zilber was arrested, accused of treason, espionage in favor of Japan and preparation of sabotage — according to NKVD officers, he was going to infect the whole of Moscow with encephalitis through a water pipe. Scientific articles about the discovery of tick-borne encephalitis were published under different names, and the scientist himself went to the Gulag.

Lev Zilber was released in 1939, but was arrested again a year later. He was released in 1944 thanks to the unprecedented efforts of several outstanding Soviet scientists, who were not afraid to write a collective letter to Stalin. Two years later, Zilber was awarded the Stalin Prize for outstanding achievements in the medical sciences.

Later Lev Zilber headed the Institute of Virology of the USSR Academy of Sciences and created one of the most authoritative schools of virologists in the world.

Tick-borne encephalitis virus
Tick-borne encephalitis virus
Lev Silber in the Laboratory, 1954
Lev Silber in the Laboratory, 1954

Black pox in Moscow in 1959

Soviet health care was given the opportunity to demonstrate its effectiveness quite unexpectedly and precisely when it was desperately needed.

On December 23, 1959, after a business trip to friendly India, the two-time Stalin Prize-winning poster artist Aleksei Alekseevich Kokorekin arrived in Moscow on an Aeroflot flight from Delhi.

The artist brought gifts to his friends and acquaintances, including items of the deceased Brahmin, whose ritual burning of the body he was fortunate enough to attend.

Among other things, Kokorekin got the carpet of the deceased, on which he died the day before.

As it turned out some time later, the brahmin did not die of old age, but of smallpox, a terrible infectious disease that had been virtually eliminated worldwide, including in the USSR, a quarter of a century before the artist-laureate was sent away.
Artist A.A. Kokorekin. 1950s
Artist A.A. Kokorekin. 1950s

It was mandatory for Soviet citizens to be vaccinated when they traveled abroad to epidemically dangerous regions. However, Kokorekin somehow avoided getting vaccinated against smallpox, even though the travel documents contained a note to that effect.

Kokorekin spent the first evening after his arrival with his mistress, and then came home to his wife, where he felt ill. The patient’s condition rapidly deteriorated: his temperature spiked and a rash appeared. His wife called an ambulance and Kokorekin was taken to the infectious disease department of Botkin Hospital, where he was placed in the general ward with flu patients.

A few days later, on December 29, 1959, the artist Kokorekin died. No one knew why.

Moscow doctors. End of the 1950s
Moscow doctors. End of the 1950s
Botkin Hospital. End of the 1950s
Botkin Hospital. End of the 1950s

The diagnosis of variola vera, smallpox, was made by a retired doctor from Leningrad, who happened to be at the autopsy and was the only person present who could still remember what human tissue affected by the disease looked like.

On January 15, 1960, Academician M.A. Morozov confirmed the diagnosis. By that time, about a dozen people in contact with Kokorekin had already fallen ill with smallpox.

Botkin Hospital was isolated.

Within hours, Interior Ministry and KGB officers found out all of Kokorekin’s connections, traced every step he took after his return to the USSR, all the contacts of people with whom he interacted, including plane passengers, customs officers, border guards who met the flight, cab drivers, medical workers, etc.

Right during the lectures, 150 students from the university where the posterist’s daughter was studying were taken to the hospital.

One of Kokorekin’s acquaintances went on a business trip to Paris after meeting him. The flight was turned around when the plane was already in the air, and everyone on board was sent to quarantine.

During the time Kokorekin was in the hospital, his wife and mistress managed to sell the Indian souvenirs he had given them, including a Bramina rug, to thrift stores. The employees of the stores and all who visited them were identified and isolated.

A total of 9342 people were quarantined.

Emergency mass vaccination has begun in Moscow and the Moscow region.

The epidemic lasted only 19 days. During that time, 45 people fell ill with smallpox, of whom three died.

In 1966, a two-part pseudo-documentary “Trouble Came to Town” was based on this story.

Smallpox in Moscow
Footage from the TV movie “Trouble Came to Town,” 1966
Poster by A. A. Kokorekin
Poster by A. A. Kokorekin
Poster by A. A. Kokorekin
Poster by A. A. Kokorekin
Poster by A. A. Kokorekin
Poster by A. A. Kokorekin
Poster by A. A. Kokorekin
Poster by A. A. Kokorekin
Poster by A. A. Kokorekin
Poster by A. A. Kokorekin
Poster by A. A. Kokorekin

The best posters

by Kokorekin

Karelian fever in the 1980s and environmentalism

The discovery of the Karelian fever virus by Soviet scientists in the early 1980s was largely due to the use of a scientific approach called “virus ecology” — not only the virus itself was studied, but also its interaction with the environment: how, where and why new pathogenic strains appear, who are their reservoirs and carriers, how they are transmitted to humans, etc.

The ecological approach made it possible to predict the emergence and rate of spread of new epidemics and pandemics. Extensive contacts and the rapid movement of people between the most remote regions of the country, which became possible in the 1960s and only increased later with the development of aviation, road and rail transport, contributed to the high speed of long-distance spread of viral infections and the coverage of large masses of the population.

Working within the framework of the ecological approach, scientists were able to determine how a virus from Africa was able to cause severe illness in Karelian loggers and Moscow mushroom tourists.

An outbreak of the new disease began in the summer of 1981 in the Muezersky District of Karelia. The clinical picture included fever, rash, and joint pain. The number of patients registered in the republic exceeded 200. However, the actual number of those who contracted the disease was much higher, since many patients did not go to medical institutions.

Mostly adults were sick, although isolated cases were observed among children and adolescents. A study of the disease revealed that most of those who fell ill went to the taiga to pick berries (especially cloudberry) and were bitten by mosquitoes. Later on, it became known that a similar picture of the disease was observed in Finland (it was called Pogost disease), Sweden (Okelbo disease) and in the south of Norway.

In those who contracted the disease, progressive severe arthritis of the large joints was observed as a complication, which often resulted in disability.

After isolating the virus of this disease, scientists found that it was identical to the Babanka virus, which is widespread among the indigenous population of Uganda. Subsequently, the entire chain of events that led to the emergence of the disease in northern Europe was also identified.

The pathogenic virus was introduced from East Africa to Northern Europe by birds wintering in Africa, the meadow pipit and finch. The natural foci were also formed by the permanent inhabitants of these places: grouse, grouse, wood grouse, and thrushes.

Meadow Horse
Meadow Horse

Aedes communis mosquitoes were the direct carriers of the virus from birds to humans.

This discovery made it possible to develop effective measures for the prevention and treatment of a disease that was previously not even suspected — for many years it was believed that the disability of the joints of local loggers was due to the nature of their work, trauma or systematic hypothermia.

In the following decades, the ecological approach in virology became the norm. For example, our country developed a monitoring system that included a meridional ecological sounding of Northern Eurasia. An area of over 15 million square kilometers was surveyed, including landscape belts of the Arctic, tundra, taiga, deciduous forests, steppes, and deserts within 18 countries with unique ecosystems. More than 90 viruses were isolated, 24 of which were new to science and the potential danger of epidemic situations in different landscape belts was determined.

The head of the field of virus ecology in Russian virology and its main “ideologist” in the USSR and in Russia for several decades has been Academician D.K. Lvov.

Forest in Karelia
Forest in Karelia
The mosquito aedes communis, or the two-striped biteer, vector of Karelian fever
The mosquito aedes communis, or the two-striped biteer, vector of Karelian fever
The Adventure of a Babanka
The Adventure of a Babanka
A Conversation about Viruses with Academician
D.K. Lvov
Next story
About the big factory


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