COVID-19 was likely in the United States as early as mid-December 2019, weeks before the virus was first identified in China, according to a study released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Nov 30.
Published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, the study pointed out that antibodies specific to the novel coronavirus – evidence of infection – were found in 106 of 7,389 blood samples from residents in nine states in the US.
Before this report, the earliest case of COVID-19 in the US was reported on Jan 19, 2020, two days after domestic testing was started.
As The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec 1, the results add to “growing evidence” suggesting COVID-19 was present outside of China earlier than previously known.
Researchers at the University of Barcelona in Spain found the presence of the virus genome in wastewater samples collected on March 12, 2019. This suggests that “the infection was present before knowing about any case of COVID-19 in any part of the world”, the university said in a statement in June.
In France, scientists found that a man was infected with COVID-19 in December 2019. The patient must have been infected between December 14 and 22, as coronavirus symptoms take between five and 14 days to appear, the BBC reported.
Although the first COVID-19 patient was detected on Feb 20 in Italy, researchers have found evidence that the virus may have been circulating since September 2019.
Regarding the new findings, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it will take every detection very seriously and examine every one of them.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO is committed to doing everything it can to find the origin based on science, as it can help the world prevent future outbreaks, but he urged countries not to politicize it or to create tension in the process.
Indeed, finding the source of a virus is a serious matter. The process should be based on science and conducted by experts. China reported cases of what people then called “pneumonia of unknown cause” on Dec 27, 2019, but being the first to report the virus does not mean that the virus had its origin in the Chinese city of Wuhan, noted Xinhua.