“June Almeida, the woman who discovered first human coronavirus in 1964,” claims a graphic posted on Facebook in South Africa. It shows a black and white photo of a woman in a lab coat looking into a microscope.
The graphic was flagged as possibly false by Facebook’s fact-checking system. Did June Almeida discover the first coronavirus? We investigated.
The B814 coronavirus strain
“The research, led by virologist David Tyrrell at the Common Cold Unit in Wiltshire, England, involved studying nasal washings from volunteers,” BMJ author Elisabeth Mahase writes. “One such sample, referred to as B814, turned out to be what we now know as a coronavirus.”
The virus was then imaged for the first time by June Almeida, “a virologist known for pioneering new methods for viral imaging and diagnosis”. In 1968, eight virologists – including Almeida and Tyrrell – wrote to Nature magazine outlining their findings and giving the “coronavirus” family its name.
The resulting brief report in Nature, published on 16 November 1968, begins: “A new group of viruses with the name of coronaviruses has been recognised by an informal group of virologists who have sent their conclusions to Nature.”
Almeida and Tyrrell chose the name “coronavirus” because the spines on viruses in the family resemble a crown. Corona is Latin for crown.
The photo in the graphic does show Almeida. Using a reverse image search, we traced it to the Getty Images website.
It’s dated 2 January 1963 and described as showing Almeida at an electron microscope in the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, Canada.
Yes, June Almeida was part of the team that discovered the first human coronavirus, which was reported in the journal BMJ in 1965. – Africa Check
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