The global health sector has been thrown into shock and confusion as researchers at the University of Barcelona, Spain, have encountered traces of the novel corona virus COVID-19 from samples of sewage (waste water) which was sampled on the 12th March, 2019, at least eight months earlier than the discovery in China later same year and which the global health community had assumed as the origin. If further tests and analyses confirm this discovery, then this is an indication that COVID-19 has appeared earlier than is being believed.
The corona Virus COVID-19 was according to the World Health Organisation WHO, discovered in Wuhan China, and officially reported to the WHO China office on 31st December, 2019. They subsequently gave it its name in February, 2020. COVID-19.
The research team from the University of Barcelona have been testing samples of waste water, since the middle of April this year, to find possible new outbreaks. Then along the line decided to test prior samples too.
They had first discovered the virus was present in Barcelona on the 15th of January, 2020. Exactly three weeks before the index case or the first reported case was announced officially.
Thereafter, they ran tests on samples taken within the period of January 2018 to December 2019, finding the COVID-19 genome in one, the one of 12th of March, 2019.
Then they ran tests on samples taken between January 2018 and December 2019 and found the presence of the virus genome in one of them, collected on March 12, 2019.
The team has submitted the research for peer review.
Reuters quoted the research leader, Albert Bosch, as saying, “The levels of SARS-CoV-2 were low but were positive.”
Dr Joan Ramon Villalbi of the Spanish Society for Public Health and Sanitary Administration said it was still early to draw definite conclusions. He said “When it’s just one result, you always want more data, more studies, more samples to confirm it and rule out a laboratory error or a methodological problem. There was the potential for a false positive due to the virus’ similarities with other respiratory infections. But it’s definitely interesting, it’s suggestive.”
Bosch is also the president of the Spanish Society of Virologists. He observed that had there been detection of the virus earlier in January this year, there would have been proactive measures that would have saved lives that have so far been lost during the pandemic. He said patients were probably misdiagnosed as having common flu, and this increased community transmission before appropriate measures were put in place and enforced.
Spain has experienced above 28,000 confirmed deaths and about 250,000 cases of the virus since February.
Reuters reported that Professor Gertjan Medema of the KWR Water Research Institute in the Netherlands, whose team began using a coronavirus test on waste water in February, suggested the Barcelona group needs to repeat the tests to confirm it is really the SARS-CoV-2 virus.