ROME (Reuters) – The new coronavirus was circulating in Italy in September 2019, a study by the National Cancer Institute (INT) of the Italian city of Milan shows, signaling that it might have spread beyond China earlier than thought.
The World Health Organization has said the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the respiratory disease it causes, were unknown before the outbreak was reported in Wuhan, central China, late last year. But it has said “the possibility that the virus may have silently circulated elsewhere cannot be ruled out.”
The WHO said on Monday it was reviewing the results from Italy and additional information published there at the weekend and was seeking clarification.
The Italian researchers’ findings, published by the INT’s scientific magazine Tumori Journal, show 11.6% of 959 healthy volunteers enrolled in a lung cancer screening trial between September 2019 and March 2020 had developed coronavirus antibodies well before February.
A further SARS-CoV-2 antibodies test was carried out by the University of Siena for the same research titled “Unexpected detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the pre-pandemic period in Italy”.
It showed that four cases dating back to the first week of October were positive for antibodies, meaning they had got infected in September, Giovanni Apolone, a co-author of the study, told Reuters.
“This is the main finding: people with no symptoms not only were positive after the serological tests but also had antibodies able to kill the virus,” Apolone said.
The WHO said it would contact the paper’s authors “to discuss and arrange for further analyses of available samples and verification of the neutralization results”.
There have been several other research that suggests that coronavirus has been prevalent in Europe and the U.S. much earlier than previously thought, and perhaps even earlier than when the virus surfaced in Wuhan late last December.
For example, there is an Italy sewage study that suggests COVID-19 was there in December 2019. Please that note when sewage sample tests positive for Covid-19, there is sufficient sample in there to indicate established community spread.
In California, community spread has been shown to occur weeks, perhaps months, earlier than the first case of coronavirus was detected. The first case of the coronavirus in California was January 21. But according to a recent study, new COVID-19 could have been in US as early as December. Interestingly, based on genetic analyses, researchers have also shown that much of the early cases in California arrived from New York, not China.