Partly false: Series of viral outbreaks between 1957 and 2019 all originated in China

An image being shared online claims a series of viral outbreaks, which occurred between 1957 and 2019, all originated in China. This is partly false.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

The image shows a cartoon of Chinese President Xi Jinping kneeling next to rows of coffins, which are draped with flags from all over the world (here).

Below this the text reads: “1957-1958 – H2N2 originated in China. 1968-1969 – H3N2 originated in China. 1997-2004 – H5N1 originated in China. 2003 – SARS originated in China. 2006 – Bird Flu originated in China. 2009 – Swine Flu originated in China. 2013 – Porcine Pestivirus originated in China. 2019 – Covid-19 originated in China.”

The post is correct to state that COVID-19, the illness caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), emerged in China. It was first detected in December 2019, in the Chinese city of Wuhan ( here )( As of May 19, 2020, at least 318,000 people have died from the disease globally (here).

The SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) was first detected in humans in the Guangdong province of southern China in November, 2002. The epidemic affected 26 countries and resulted in more than 8,000 cases in 2003 (here).

In 1968 the H3N2 virus, also known as ‘Hong Kong Flu’, was detected in the then British colony of Hong Kong. While there was a large outbreak in Hong Kong, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that the origin of the virus is “uncertain” and that it “may have spread from the mainland of China.” (here)

The post on social claims there was an outbreak of ‘H5N1’ between 1997-2004, and an outbreak of ‘Bird Flu’ in 2006. Listing these separately is misleading as H5N1 is the scientific name for bird flu (avian influenza). The WHO states that the H5N1 virus was first detected in geese in Guangdong in 1996. The first human infection was reported in 1997 in Hong Kong, with outbreaks continuing through 2006 (here) (here).

There are differing accounts of where the 1957 ‘Asian flu’ pandemic, which was caused by the virus H2N2, originated from. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the virus was first reported in Singapore in February 1957, before spreading to Hong Kong in April and the U.S. in the summer (here).

However other sources state that the outbreak began in the Guizhou province of southwestern China (here ) (here)

The post claims there was an outbreak of ‘Porcine Pestivirus’ in 2013. While it is unclear what this is referring to, there is a pestivirus called Atypical Porcine Pestivirus (APPV) which was detected in Austrian piglets in 2013 (here) (here).

The 2009 swine flu outbreak did not originate in China - the virus started in Mexico in April 2009. According to the WHO, between 105,000 and 395,000 people are thought to have died from it (here) (here ).


Partly false: While many of the outbreaks listed in the post did originate in China, swine flu started in Mexico and there are differing accounts of where the ‘Asian flu’ originated from. It is unclear what outbreak the ‘Porcine Pestivirus’ is referring to.