“How many of those were presumed to be flu or pneumonia when they were actually COVID-19?” a renowned U.S. geneticist and researcher said in a report published by The Washington Post in late April.
Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said the early coronavirus deaths confirmed in California could mean COVID-19 may have been misdiagnosed in many people early this year.
His doubt represented concern of the public.
Several U.S. epidemiologists said since the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, factors such as lack of knowledge of the virus, failure of timely alarm by the monitoring system, and serious problems with testing, have led to “confusion” between COVID-19 and flu patients.
Some death cases presumed to result from influenza may actually be related to COVID-19, according to the experts.
In late April, health officials in California state confirmed at least two people who died in early- and mid-February had contracted the novel coronavirus, suggesting the virus may have spread in the United States earlier than previously thought.
Tissue samples from victims who died on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17 in Santa Clara County, California, tested positive for the virus.
Previously, the nation’s earliest coronavirus fatality was thought to have occurred on Feb. 29 in Kirkland, Washington.
The COVID-19 epidemic “spread silently within communities at a time when health officials still focused entirely on infections from travelers entering the United States from abroad, or off cruise ships,” said a report by The Los Angeles Times.
“We were missing cases because we didn’t have the tests to be able to confirm,” Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s public health officer, was quoted by The Washington Post as saying.
As Cody explained, each severe COVID-19 case or death represents “tips of icebergs of unknown size.”
“When you start seeing the first death, actually, the number of cases in the population is probably pretty high already. It’s been in the community for a long time,” Neeraj Sood, a professor at Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California, was quoted by The Los Angeles Times as saying.
According to a report by The New York Times, as part of a research project into the flu, Helen Y. Chu, an infectious disease expert in Seattle, and a team of researchers had been collecting nasal swabs from residents experiencing symptoms throughout the Puget Sound region.
To repurpose the tests for monitoring the coronavirus, they turned to the support of state and federal officials, but were repeatedly rejected.
On Feb. 25, Chu and her colleagues began performing coronavirus tests without government approval. They quickly had a positive test from a local teenager with no recent travel history.
The coronavirus had already established itself on American soil without anybody realizing it, according to The New York Times report.
Some COVID-19 deaths have been diagnosed as flu-related in the United States, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a hearing on Capitol Hill on March 11.
According to the CDC, as of Feb. 22, in the current season there were at least 32 million cases of flu in the United States, with 18,000 deaths. Enditem