China did not warn the world about the mysterious virus circulating in Wuhan – the city at the center of the pandemic – until December 2019.
Beijing officials say the virus originated in mid-December. But since then, a lot of research has been found in this statement.
Now, retesting dozens of blood samples from Italian patients shows that the infection was widespread in Italy months before anyone knew about the virus.
The results showed that the blood of one cancer patient, originally taken in October 2019, contained antibodies that fight Covid.
The experts said their discovery “is a plausible signal” that the virus was circulating much earlier than previously thought, but said more evidence was needed to confirm this.
Only low levels of antibodies were found, making it difficult to conclude that patients definitely had Covid at the time.
Scientists in Milan acknowledged that the results could be false positive, and experts not involved in the study suggested that other coronaviruses circulating at the time could trigger an immune response.
Covid did not officially reach Europe until February last year, but the true timing of the pandemic remains under scrutiny.
There is also debate over the source of Covid, with China repeatedly insisting that the virus is naturally transmitted to humans from bats. But observers say the virus may have somehow leaked out of a high-tech lab in downtown Wuhan.
While China tried to insist that the virus originated elsewhere, scientists, politicians and the media have been considering leaking it from a high-level biochemistry laboratory in Wuhan, raising suspicions that Chinese officials were simply hiding the evidence. early spread of the virus.
Scientists at the Istituto Nazionale Tumori initially tested blood samples from 959 patients for lung cancer.
They re-tested the same samples last year to look for traces of the virus and found that 111 did indeed contain Covid antibodies.
Subsequently, the World Health Organization asked them to re-analyze the samples, Financial Times reports.
The experts sent 29 samples, some of which were positive, to VisMederi’s laboratory in Italy, which is affiliated with WHO, and Erasmus University in the Netherlands.
The researchers then compared the results to a similar number of controls taken in 2018.
Scientists from VisMederi and Erasmus found that three samples tested positive for IgM antibodies to Covid, which often emerge within days of a person’s infection.
COVID LEAKED FROM WUHAN LAB? PROS AND CONS
Proof of Leak Theory from Wuhan Lab
Article in the respected The science The May 14 journal sparked a recent surge of interest in the theory of laboratory leaks.
About 18 experts wrote in the journal that “we must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory side effects seriously until we have enough data.”
The study included allegations of “deliberate destruction, hiding or data contamination” in Chinese laboratories.
It followed statements from the Director-General of WHO, the US and the EU that it is necessary and possible to achieve greater clarity about the origin of this pandemic.
This theory has previously been dismissed as a conspiracy by most experts, in part because of its connection to President Donald Trump.
In May, President Joe Biden ordered a full investigation into the origins of the pandemic virus and demanded that scientists find out if the theory was true.
A day earlier, the head of the World Health Organization insisted that the theory that Covid arose from a laboratory in Wuhan was not ruled out – because he said that China should help solve the mystery out of “respect” for the dead.
The organization’s CEO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, suggested that Beijing did not cooperate fully as he called for more “transparency” in the ongoing investigation.
Evidence versus theory
Several other sects in the scientific community continue to speculate that the virus may only be of natural origin.
A series of recent publications indicated that the virus evolved in animals before being transmitted to humans, just like all other previously discovered coronaviruses.
First study published in Scientific reports, showed that from May 2017 to November 2019, about 47,000 wild animals of 38 species were sold in four markets in Wuhan.
The authors, including Dr. Chris Newman, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Oxford, said the evidence showed that conditions exist in Wuhan for animal-to-human transmission of the virus.
But they admitted that there is no evidence that Sars-CoV-2 was present or originated in any of these animals.
Joint World Health Organization-China study He also concluded that it was “highly likely” that the virus passed from bats to humans through an as yet unknown intermediate animal.
These samples were taken from cancer patients in Italy in October and November 2019 and February 2020.
But Erasmus said none of the samples contained enough of the three types of antibodies needed to confirm infection with the coronavirus.
VisMederi found nine more samples contained Covid antibodies, but Erasmus said the levels found were well below the threshold.
Gabriella Sozzi, one of the researchers who originally studied the blood samples, said: At the start of the pandemic, the virus may have been less aggressive or infectious, so “highly sensitive tests should be used despite the risk of false positives.”
Experts said the results “do not at all suggest” the origin of the virus from Italy.
But they corroborate other findings that the virus was likely spreading in China before the first case was officially identified.
They said their findings show the importance of investigating the early events of the pandemic to address unanswered questions about the origin and timing of the outbreak.
Giovanni Apolone, scientific director of the Milan Cancer Research Center, told the FT: “The results of this retesting suggest that what we previously reported about asymptomatic patients is a plausible signal that the virus is circulating early in Italy.
If confirmed, it would explain the explosion of symptomatic cases seen in Italy. [in 2020]… Sars-Cov-2, or an earlier version, spread silently under the surface. “
Professor Marion Koopmans, a virologist at Erasmus, told the newspaper that the results were “interesting” and that it was “possible” that the patients were infected with Covid.
But she said she “would like to see more evidence.”
Prof Koopmans added: “We are using a fairly strict threshold and cannot rule out that some of the observed reactivity is real.
“However, to confirm earlier spread, we would recommend studies of patients with unexplained disease for virological confirmation.”
Professor Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia who was not involved in the study, said telegraph the results are not conclusive evidence because the patients may have been infected with a different type of coronavirus.
He said: “This paper is not enough to prove that the virus was circulating in October.
This does not exclude such a possibility, it is just that the article, although interesting, does not provide sufficient evidence.
“ According to evolutionary genetics research, the first infection may have occurred sometime between October 6, 2019 – December 11, 2019, so widespread infection in October is highly unlikely. ”
Despite the lack of conclusive evidence, the study is not the first to suggest that Covid spread prior to December 2019.
Researchers previously discovered Covid antibodies in Italy and France in November and December 2019. Meanwhile, blood tests in the United States have revealed signals that the virus was in the country by December 13.
Experts at the University of Kent identified November 17 as the most likely data from Covid, but said it may have circulated in China back in October.
This came more than a month before news of an outbreak of “new pneumonia” in the Huanan seafood market, which was identified as the epicenter of the pandemic.
Some experts now suspect the virus may have accidentally leaked from a high-level biosafety laboratory in Wuhan.
Until recently, leading scientists and government officials in the UK and around the world have publicly dismissed the “laboratory leak” hypothesis as a conspiracy.
But recent events and revelations about the types of research that were being carried out in the Wuhan lab have led to growing doubts about the virus’s origins.
Boris Johnson said last month that the possibility of a virus leaking from a virus institute in Wuhan is possible.