- New research in Italy indicates that the first cases of local coronaviruses may have appeared as early as a month before people were diagnosed with COVID-19.
- The first cases of COVID-19 in Italy were two Chinese citizens who were tested in Rome on January 31. Three weeks later, the first Italian cases were found to be positive in Lombardy.
- Scientists believe the disease spread quietly in Italy throughout the month of January and may have been caused by groups of people who did not necessarily come from China.
- Visit the BGR home page for more stories.
The first new cases of coronavirus were registered in Italy on January 31, about 86 days ago. At the end of February, nearly 900 people were diagnosed (21 deaths), then the number of infections soared. More than 105,000 people had the disease as of March 31 (12,303 deaths), and the number has now reached 193,000 (25,969 deaths). For a while, Italy was the second COVID-19 epicenter in the world after the Wuhan region where it all started – then Spain and the United States surpassed Italy’s workload. It turns out that the local epidemic may have started well before January 31, according to a new study that looked at the spread of the disease in the country.
The first official cases of COVID-19 in Italy on January 31 were two Chinese tourists tested positive in Rome, the capital of the country. It was then that Italy stopped air traffic to and from China, Reuters reports. It will not be until three weeks later, on February 21, that the first local patient will be confirmed positive for the new coronavirus. This first diagnosis came to Codogno, a small town in the Lombardy region.
The cases then exploded, prompting the government to circle the north of the country in an attempt to contain the spread. These efforts failed and the number of cases continued to increase. Scientists began to suspect that the disease had reached Italy weeks before this first local case was confirmed, sometime in January. But the disease went undetected.
“We realized there were a lot of people infected in Lombardy long before February 20, which means the epidemic started much earlier,” said Stefano Merler at a press conference on Friday. Merler, from the Bruno Kessler Foundation, was joined by the highest Italian health authorities. He said his institute looked at the earliest known cases and drew conclusions from the rate of contagion. The disease may have arrived in Italy even before January, which would be a rather surprising discovery.
“In January, of course, but maybe even before. We will never know, “he said, adding that it was probably groups of people who introduced the new coronavirus into the country, not a single individual. At least that’s what the initial surge seems to suggest. Reuters notes that another team of Italian scientists said the coronavirus may have reached Italy from Germany in the second half of January, again suggesting that it did not come directly from China.
A third study that looked at a sample of cases in April found that 44.1% of infections occurred in nursing homes, 24.7% spread to families, 10.8% of people contracted in the hospital and 4.2% were infected in the workplace.
A month ago, Reuters reported that Italian scientists were examining the unusual number of severe pneumonia and influenza cases in Lombardy in the last quarter of 2019. They thought this may be a sign of the earlier spread of COVID-19 than what ‘it was thought before, although others have challenged this hypothesis. It is not known if they were able to prove that COVID-19 arrived in Italy before January.
Italy is not the only country trying to understand how the COVID-19 health crisis started. A few days ago, reports show that the first death from COVID-19 in the United States may have occurred much earlier than expected, in late February. This is an indication that the disease was already spreading undetected.