SARS conspiracy theory

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The SARS conspiracy theory began to emerge during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in China in the spring of 2003, when Sergei Kolesnikov,[1] a Russian scientist and a member of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, first publicized his claim that the SARS coronavirus is a synthesis of measles and mumps. According to Kolesnikov, this combination cannot be formed in the natural world and thus the SARS virus must have been produced under laboratory conditions. Another Russian scientist, Nikolai Filatov, head of Moscow's epidemiological services, had earlier commented that the SARS virus was probably man-made.[2]

However, independent labs concluded these claims to be premature since the SARS virus is a coronavirus,[3][4][5] whereas measles and mumps are paramyxoviruses.[6][7] The primary differences between a coronavirus and a paramyxovirus are in their structures and method of infection, thus making it implausible for a coronavirus to have been created from two paramyxoviruses.

The widespread reporting of claims by Kolesnokov and Filatov caused controversy in many Chinese internet discussion boards and chat rooms. Many Chinese believed that the SARS virus could be a biological weapon manufactured by the United States, which perceived China as a potential threat.[8] The failure to find the source of the SARS virus further convinced these people and many more that SARS was artificially synthesised and spread by some individuals and even governments. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the SARS virus crossed over to humans from Asian palm civets ("civet cats"), a type of animal that is often killed and eaten in Guangdong, where SARS was first discovered.[9][10]

Supporters of the conspiracy theory suggest that SARS caused the most serious harm in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, regions where most Chinese reside, while the United States, Europe and Japan were not affected as much. However, the highest mortality from SARS outside of China occurred in Canada where 43 died.[11][12] Conspiracists further point out that SARS has an average mortality rate of around 10% around the world, but no one died in the United States from SARS, despite the fact that there were 8 confirmed cases out of 27 probable cases (10% of 8 people is less than 1 person).[11][13][14] Regarding reasons why SARS patients in the United States experienced a relatively mild illness, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has explained that anybody with fever and a respiratory symptom who had traveled to an affected area was included as a SARS patient in the U.S., even though many of these were found to have had other respiratory illnesses.[14][15]

In October 2003, Tong Zeng, a Chinese lawyer and a volunteer in a 1998 Chinese-American medical cooperation program, published a book[16] that again speculated that SARS could be a biological weapon developed by the United States against China. In the book, Tong disclosed that in the 1990s, many American research groups collected thousands of blood and DNA samples and specimens of mainland Chinese (including 5,000 DNA samples from twins) through numerous joint research projects carried out in China. These samples were then sent back to the United States for further research, and could be used in developing biological weapons targeting Chinese. These samples came from 22 provinces in China, all of which were hit by SARS in 2003. Only provinces like Yunnan, Guizhou, Hainan, Tibet, and Xinjiang were left out, and all these provinces suffered less severely during the SARS outbreak. The author suspects that Japan is also involved, as many Japanese factories in Guangdong in the 1990s made it compulsory for all workers to have blood tests in the factory annually, rather than asking workers to go to local hospitals for blood tests and a proper physical examination. However, Tong Zeng admits that these are only speculations, and he does not have any concrete proof from the study of the virus's genetic sequence.[17]

The two scientists named above expressed the possibility that the SARS virus was man-made.[18]

Coronaviruses similar to SARS have been found in bats in China, suggesting they may be their natural reservoir.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "SARS virus was created in weapons lab: Russian scientist". Rediff. Rediff. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  2. ^ "Sars biological weapon?". 11 April 2003. Archived from the original on 6 July 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-16.
  3. ^ Marra, Marco A.; Jones, Steven J. M.; Astell, Caroline R.; Holt, Robert A.; Brooks-Wilson, Angela; Butterfield, Yaron S. N.; Khattra, Jaswinder; Asano, Jennifer K.; Barber, Sarah A.; Chan, Susanna Y.; Cloutier, Alison; Coughlin, Shaun M.; Freeman, Doug; Girn, Noreen; Griffith, Obi L.; Leach, Stephen R.; Mayo, Michael; McDonald, Helen; Montgomery, Stephen B.; Pandoh, Pawan K.; Petrescu, Anca S.; Robertson, A. Gordon; Schein, Jacqueline E.; Siddiqui, Asim; Smailus, Duane E.; Stott, Jeff M.; Yang, George S.; Plummer, Francis; Andonov, Anton; Artsob, Harvey; Bastien, Nathalie; Bernard, Kathy; Booth, Timothy F.; Bowness, Donnie; Czub, Martin; Drebot, Michael; Fernando, Lisa; Flick, Ramon; Garbutt, Michael; Gray, Michael; Grolla, Allen; Jones, Steven; Feldmann, Heinz; Meyers, Adrienne; Kabani, Amin; Li, Yan; Normand, Susan; Stroher, Ute; Tipples, Graham A.; Tyler, Shaun; Vogrig, Robert; Ward, Diane; Watson, Brynn; Brunham, Robert C.; Krajden, Mel; Petric, Martin; Skowronski, Danuta M.; Upton, Chris; Roper, Rachel L. (30 May 2003). "The Genome Sequence of the SARS-Associated Coronavirus". Science. 300 (5624): 1399–1404. Bibcode:2003Sci...300.1399M. doi:10.1126/science.1085953. PMID 12730501.
  4. ^ "Coronavirus belongs to same family as Sars".
  5. ^ "Coronaviruses". Archived from the original on 24 May 2005. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  6. ^ "Paramyxovirus Information". Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  7. ^ "Measles". World Health Organization. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  8. ^ "Speculation SARS leaked from bio-weapon program". Melbourne: May 1, 2003. Retrieved 2007-08-16.
  9. ^ "WHO: More evidence of civet cat-SARs link". CNN. January 17, 2004. Archived from the original on December 1, 2004. Retrieved 2007-08-16.
  10. ^ "China scientists say SARS-civet cat link proved". Reuters. 23 November 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-16.
  11. ^ a b "WHO - Summary of probable SARS cases with onset of illness from 1 November 2002 to 31 July 2003". Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-01-26. Retrieved 2013-02-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-01-26. Retrieved 2013-02-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ a b "Update: Outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome --- Worldwide, 2003". Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, U.S. Centers for Disease Control. April 4, 2003. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  15. ^ "Why SARS Death Rate Lower In United States". April 3, 2003. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  16. ^ Zhang, Li (February 28, 2008). Privatizing China: Socialism from Afar (2nd ed.). Cornell University Press. p. 296. ISBN 978-0801473784.
  17. ^ Sheridan Prasso (16 February 2004). "Old Habits". The New Republic. Retrieved 2007-08-16. (also see "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2008-09-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link))
  18. ^ "SARS could be biological weapon: experts". ABC News. April 12, 2003. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  19. ^ "SARS-like coronavirus found in wild bats: scientists". The People's Daily. 11 September 2005. Retrieved 2007-08-16.

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