Coronavirus was already in northern Italy in December, two months before the first cases were confirmed in the country, according to new research.
In a statement, Italy’s National Institute of Health (ISS), explained that traces of the SARS-CoV-2 virus were found in December 2019 wastewater samples from Milan and Turin.
The discovery means that the virus was in circulation at least two months before it was confirmed to have spread locally in the population.
Researchers examined 40 wastewater samples collected between October 2019 and February 2020, as well as 24 control samples collected between September 2018 and June 2019. SARS-Cov-2 RNA (ribonucleic acid) was found in samples collected in Milan and Turin on Dec. 18, 2019, and in Bologna on Jan. 29, 2020.
Italian soldiers patrol the square facing Duomo gothic cathedral in downtown Milan, Italy, Sunday, March 22, 2020 – file photo.
(AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
The discovery sheds new light on the early circulation of the novel coronavirus.
The coronavirus was first reported in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Italy, however, quickly became one of the world’s early coronavirus hotspots, with northern parts of the country particularly badly hit.
“This research can contribute to understanding the beginning of the circulation of the virus in Italy,” the institute said in a statement.
The research has so far not linked any confirmed cases to the virus’ earlier presence, but researchers have proposed using the system to monitor the presence of the new coronavirus in water systems in a bid to help identify any possible new outbreaks.
A pilot monitoring system will launch next month in tourist destinations, in preparation for wider monitoring ahead of a possible new spike in contagion next fall, the institute said.
At least 238,159 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in Italy, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, with the virus accounting for at least 34,514 deaths in the country.
As of Friday morning, more than 8.5 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, with over 2.1 million in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins. The disease has accounted for at least 454,582 deaths around the world, including at least 118,436 in the U.S.
Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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