Yes, June Almeida helped discover the first human coronavirus

“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 new coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is the seventh human coronavirus – one that can infect people – to be identified, according to the US Centers for Disease Control

There are dozens of viruses in the coronavirus family, each able to infect a different animal or animals – bats, rabbits, pigs and even the beluga whale.

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 BMJ, a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal, says it published the first description of a human coronavirus in 1965.

“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.”

Crowned viruses

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


 

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”. What should you do? First, don't delete!

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Fighting coronavirus misinformation

Africa Check is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers fighting misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the alliance here.

© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.