Studies worldwide likely pushing back COVID-19 timeline


A newly released study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that COVID-19 was likely in the United States as early as mid-December 2019, weeks before the virus was first identified in China, presenting the latest evidence that the coronavirus was spreading around the world earlier than previously known.

According to the study published Monday online in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, CDC researchers tested blood samples from 7,389 routine blood donations collected by the American Red Cross from Dec. 13, 2019 to Jan. 17, 2020 for antibodies specific to the novel coronavirus.

COVID-19 infections “may have been present in the U.S. in December 2019,” about a month earlier than the country’s first official case on Jan. 19, the CDC scientists wrote.

In late April, Michael Melham, Mayor of Belleville in the U.S. state of New Jersey, said that he had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies and believed he had contracted the virus in November last year, despite a doctor’s reported assumption that what Melham went through was just flu.

Not merely in the United States, more researches have added to growing evidence that COVID-19 could silently circulate outside of China earlier than previously thought.

In Spain, researchers at the University of Barcelona, one of the country’s most prestigious universities, detected the presence of the virus genome in waste water samples collected on March 12, 2019, the university said in a statement in June.

In France, scientists found a man infected with COVID-19 in December last year, roughly a month before the first officially recorded cases in Europe.

Citing a doctor at Avicenne and Jean-Verdier hospitals near Paris, BBC News reported in May that the patient “must have been infected between 14 and 22 December, as coronavirus symptoms take between five and 14 days to appear.”

In Italy, a research by the National Cancer Institute in Milan, published in November, showed that 11.6 percent of the 959 healthy volunteers who participated in a lung cancer screening trial between September 2019 to March 2020 had developed COVID-19 antibodies well before February when the first official case was recorded in the country, with four cases from the study dated to the first week in October last year, which means those people had been infected in September.

These new findings are yet another illustration of how complicated it is to solve the scientific puzzle of virus source tracing.

Historically, the place where a virus was first reported has not often been that of its origin.

The HIV infection, for instance, was first reported by the United States, yet it might also be possible that the virus did not owe its origin to the United States.

And more and more evidence proves that the Spanish Flu did not originate from Spain.

As far as COVID-19 is concerned, being the first to report the virus does not mean that the virus had its origin in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Regarding these studies, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it will “take every detection in France, in Spain, in Italy very seriously, and we will examine each and every one of them.”

“We will not stop from knowing the truth on the origin of the virus, but based on science, without politicizing it or trying to create tension in the process,” WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier this week.

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