New evidence in Florida and France suggests that the coronavirus had already spread to Wuhan, China, and started traveling around the world as early as December.
The results come as researchers test samples of respiratory disease patients who went to hospital in December, January and February. The results suggest that the virus could have started to spread through communities outside of China weeks earlier than expected.
“It is really important that we explore this further,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical officer for the World Health Organization on Wednesday. “Some countries can look back and look at some of these samples that were stored in January or December and can retest them. Some of these samples may therefore test positive for COVID-19. “
New genetic analysis lends additional credibility to an earlier chronology of spread. The study, carried out by scientists at the Institute of Genetics at University College London, found that most genetic mutations in the virus (which so far have no known effects on symptoms or contagiousness) exists in all of the hardest hit countries. This suggests that the spread around the world probably started “very early in the pandemic,” the researchers wrote. Their work was published Tuesday in the journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution.
Andrew Brouwer, an assistant researcher at the University of Michigan, told Business Insider that early identification of patients in each country or state helps epidemiologists “tell the story of the epidemic”.
“By the time we detect a serious case, there is already local transmission,” said Brouwer.
Florida COVID-19 Patients Presented Symptoms As of December 31
Florida officials have documented that at least 170 COVID-19 confirmed patients had reported symptoms between December 31 and February 29, the Miami Herald reported on Tuesday based on analysis from Florida Department data of Health. The state did not officially confirm its first COVID-19 cases until March 1.
According to the Herald, most of these people had not traveled and 40% had not reported contact with a known coronavirus patient.
Florida Department of Health spokesperson Alberto Moscoso told The Herald that many COVID-19 patients “reported symptoms that started weeks before their confirmatory tests.”
However, he said, “it cannot be definitively determined whether these early symptoms were the result of COVID-19 or other causes.”
However, the new data suggests that the virus spread through Florida in January, and possibly even in late December.
“It’s spreading in the community,” said Dr. Eric Toner, senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, at the Herald. “It’s invisible, it’s invisible, it’s invisible, until it’s suddenly obvious. “
Florida had more than 38,000 infections on Wednesday.
Other parts of the United States may also have experienced early outbreaks of coronavirus
California is also trying to identify its first coronavirus patients. On April 23, Governor Gavin Newsom asked coroners and forensic scientists to review the state’s deaths as early as December.
The decision came after new autopsy results showed that COVID-19 had killed two people in Santa Clara County on February 6 and 17, weeks earlier than the deaths previously considered to be the oldest in the State.
“When that happened, it was important forensic information, deeply important to understanding the epidemiology of this disease, all of these things are brought out with more clarity and light,” Newsom said. to reporters when he ordered the autopsies. “Not only because of this specific announcement, but I imagine future announcements that could be made by similar efforts throughout the state of California. “
In cities across the country, the virus may have already taken root in February.
A model from researchers at Northeastern University suggests that the coronavirus had started to spread in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Seattle in early February. Thousands of people probably contracted the disease without knowing it, the New York Times reported.
France’s new potential “zero patient”
In France, Dr. Yves Cohen says he identified a coronavirus patient who had symptoms in December.
Cohen heads the intensive care unit at Avicenne et Jean-Verdier hospital outside Paris, where a 42-year-old man came spitting blood on December 27, 2019. It was four days before China did informs the World Health Organization of its new epidemic of pneumonia.
The man tested negative for influenza, but his respiratory sample was subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, according to an analysis co-authored by Cohen, which is expected to be published in the International Journal of Microbial Agents.
“He might be patient zero, but maybe there were others in other regions,” Cohen told French television station BFM.
Isaac Sher and Hilary Brueck contributed to the report.