A new study said COVID-19 infections were detected in the U.S. in December 2019, indicating the coronavirus was spreading globally weeks before the first cases were reported in Wuhan China.
The study published Monday identified 106 infections from 7,389 blood samples collected from donors in nine U.S. states between Dec. 13 and Jan. 17.
The samples, collected by the American Red Cross, were sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing to detect if there were antibodies against the virus.
“The findings of this report suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infections may have been present in the U.S. in December 2019, earlier than previously recognized,” the paper said.
Reports of a mysterious pneumonia spreading in Wuhan, China, first emerged in late December 2019.
After multiplying rapidly throughout the city in the following weeks, the disease spread across the globe, with the first U.S. case emerging on Jan. 19.
The revelations in the paper by researchers from the CDC reinforce the growing understanding that the coronavirus was silently circulating worldwide earlier than known, and could re-ignite debate over the origins of the pandemic.
It’s not the first evidence showing the virus could have existed or infected people outside China before 2020.
A patient in France was found to have contracted the virus after being hospitalized with flu-like symptoms at the end of December, contradicting official statistics showing Covid-19 reached the country from people returning from Wuhan at the end of January.
Researchers in Milan also reported two weeks ago that Covid-19 was circulating in Italy by September 2019, months before the first documented case was reported in China’s Wuhan.
The research was carried out by scientists at Milan’s National Cancer Institute (INT).
Gabriella Sozzi, an INT biologist, told CGTN Europe that the blood samples showed the presence of antibodies against Covid-19 from September, while the first documented case of Italy was on February 21.
Sozzi said to CGTN: “What we noticed, and it was unexpected, we found more than 10 per cent of the samples presenting antibodies against the Covid-19 virus.
This finding seems to tell us that the Sars-Cov-2 virus was probably circulating at a low level in Italy before the outbreak that we had in February.”
The World Health Organisation confirmed the first case of the coronavirus in December last year, months after the blood samples were collected in Italy.
However, the new evidence suggests this was not the beginning of the global outbreak.
The Italian research revealed that 11.6 per cent of nearly 1,000 healthy volunteers had coronavirus antibodies before the disease was officially detected in Italy.