Coronavirus was already in Italy in December 2019, say scientists

Coronavirus was already in Italy in December 2019, say scientists

Coronavirus was already in Italy in December 2019, say scientists

La Rosa said the detection of traces of the virus before the end of 2019 was consistent with evidence emerging in other countries that COVID-19 may have been circulating before China reported the first cases of a new disease on December 31.

The ISS institute said that waste water collected in Milan and Turin previous year including in Bologna showed genetic traces of COVID-19.

The findings could help experts fully grasp how the virus started spreading in Italy, Ms La Rosa stated.

Hospital tests in the coastal region of Liguria have also indicated the likelihood that the virus was present in the country at the end of past year, Italian newspapers have reported.

The epidemic has killed more than 34,500 people in Italy, since the first case was recorded in Codogno in Lombardy, the first infection identified outside China where the disease appeared in December 2019.

On February 21 the government ordered Codogno shuttered, followed by nine other towns across Lombardy and Veneto.

Genetic material of the novel coronavirus was detected in the samples collected from Milan and Turin sewage last December, according to an announcement released by an Italian institution on Thursday. Taken in October and November sample gave a negative result.

Italy has been one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, but since May has seen a slowdown in the contagions and death rates.

"The discovery of the virus does not automatically imply that the main transmission chains that led to the development of the epidemic in our country originated from these first cases, but, in perspective, a surveillance network in the area may prove to be valuable to control the epidemic", said researcher Luca Lucentini.

The results are consistent with similar tests carried out on waste water in Barcelona and with clinical tests on patients hospitalized in France, which showed biological traces of the virus as early as last December.

The data was in line with results obtained from retrospective analysis of samples of patients hospitalised in France, which found positive SARS-CoV-2 cases dating back to the end of December, the institute said.

The ISS said it had urged the health ministry to coordinate the collection of samples regularly in sewers and at the entrance to purification plants "as a tool to detect and monitor the circulation of the virus in different territories at an early stage".

According to Lucia Bonadonna, another in charge of the ISS, a pilot project will begin in July with the supervision of any traces of the virus in wastewater in tourist locations.

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