Coronavirus-battered Italy became the latest country – and the third in Europe – to report presence of the virus in December 2019 or January 2020, well before the pandemic created havoc across the world, reports said on Friday.
Italian scientists say coronavirus traces were found in sewage water from two cities in December, much before it began affecting people, the BBC reported.
The National Institute of Health (ISS), which studied 40 sewage samples collected from wastewater treatment plants in northern Italy between October and February, said water from Milan and Turin showed genetic virus traces on December 18, while samples from October and November were negative. Samples from Bologna showed traces of the virus in January.
While officials in China whose Wuhan is regarded as the epicentre of the disease, confirmed the first cases at the end of December, Italy’s first case was in mid-February.
ISS water quality expert Giuseppina La Rosa said that the findings could help scientists understand how the virus began spreading in Italy, but noted the research did not “automatically imply that the main transmission chains that led to the development of the epidemic in our country originated from these very first cases”, the BBC reported.
Italy’s first known non-imported virus case was a patient in the town in the northern Lombardy region.
The ISS said the results confirmed the “strategic importance” of sewage water as an early detection tool because it can signal the virus’s presence before cases are clinically confirmed. Many countries are now using the technique.
Nearly 35,000 people have died with Covid-19 in Italy, as per the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus dats.
Last month, French scientists said tests on samples showed a patient treated for suspected pneumonia near Paris in end-December actually had the coronavirus, while a study in Spain also found virus traces in waste water collected in mid-January in Barcelona, over a month before the first case was reported.