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Dakota Datebook

A Coronavirus in 1930

In December 1930, the Committee on Transmissible Diseases of Poultry for the American Veterinary Medical Association presented a paper prepared by doctors Arthur  Schalk and Merle Hawn from the North Dakota Agricultural College.  The paper described Avian Infectious Bronchitis, an illness caused by the infectious bronchitis virus.  This would be the first scientific description of a coronavirus infection.

They reported, “In the brief period of a few days, about the first of April of the present year, there were brought to the veterinary laboratories of the North Dakota Agricultural College, through the mail and personal visits from hatcherymen and poultry-keepers, an unusually large number of dead or markedly sick baby chicks, manifesting peculiar characteristic gasping symptoms.

“Inasmuch as we had never encountered a similar condition in baby chicks with the same history and symptomatology during our twenty years of laboratory and field experience and were unable to find this identical condition recorded in veterinary pathology, we are tentatively referring to it as 'an apparently new respiratory disease of baby chicks.”

By the time their paper was presented, Dr. Schalk had resigned to accept the chair of preventative medicine at his alma mater, Ohio State University.  That department still exists.  President Sheppard said, “Losing Dr. Schalk as an associate here is distressing to me since he is a capable investigator, a good teacher, and a personal friend.  The offer made Dr. Schalk by the Ohio State University is out of our financial reach at this institution, and the opportunity to engage in a special and attractive line of work is an allurement which would move him, I fancy, if all other things were equal.  I can only congratulate and rejoice with him.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Hawn continued his research at the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station, publishing a paper “Trichomoniasis in Turkeys” in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.  He would become the first person to receive the Veterinarian of the Year Award from the North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association, in 1975.

So it was that the first scientific description of a coronavirus infection happened here in North Dakota, in 1930.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Varvel

Sources:

A. F. Schalk and M. C. Hawn, “An Apparently New Respiratory Disease of Baby Chicks”, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1931, volume 78, pages 413-422.

“Schalk Leaving For Ohio School To Assume Post”, Spectrum, 9 May 1930, page 1 column 1, page 2 columns 3-4.

M. C. Hawn, “Trichomaniasis of Turkeys”, The Journal of Infectious Diseases, September 1937, volume 61, issue 2, pages 184-197.

NDVMA Awards, https://www.ndvma.com/awards

For background, here is a letter to the editor to the BMJ as well as an article from the Scientist Magazine, each of which explains the historical significance of Schalk and Hawn's scientific paper about Infection Bronchitis Virus, which is an avian coronavirus:

https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1547/rr-2

https://www.the-scientist.com/foundations/coronavirus-closeup-1964-67858

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