The coronavirus was present in the US wks before scientists and public health officials previously thought, and before cases in China were publicly identified, according to a new government study published Monday.
The virus and the illness that it causes, COVID-19, were 1st identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, but it was not until 20 January that the 1st confirmed COVID-19 case, from a traveler returning from China, was found in the US.
The new findings published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases suggest that the coronavirus, known officially as SARS-CoV-2, had infected people in the US even earlier.
“SARS-CoV-2 infections may have been present in the US in December 2019, earlier than previously recognized,” the authors said.
This discovery adds to evidence that the virus was being spread around the world before health officials and the public were aware, disrupting prior thinking of how the disease 1st emerged and how it has since evolved.
It also shows the virus’s presence in US communities likely did not start with the 1st case identified case in January.
Researchers came to this conclusion after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed blood donations collected by the American Red Cross from residents in 9 states. They found evidence of coronavirus antibodies in 106 out of 7,389 blood donations. The CDC analyzed the blood collected between 13 December and 17 January.
The presence of antibodies in a person’s blood means they were exposed to a virus and that their body’s immune system triggered a defensive response.
Researchers found coronavirus antibodies in 39 samples from California, Oregon, and Washington as early as 13 -16 December. They also discovered antibodies in 67 samples from Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin in early January before widespread outbreaks in those states.
Despite the findings, widespread community transmission in the US was unlikely until late February, the authors said.
“These findings also highlight the value of blood donations as a source for conducting SARS-CoV-2 surveillance studies,” they said.
The authors said the report will help broaden health officials’ understanding of the epidemic as the world continues to deal with COVID-19, adding that the research might help in identifying what resources and public health interventions are needed to stop serious illness and death from COVID-19.
Have a healthy day, Keep the Faith!