Coronavirus traces found in March 2019 wastewater sample, Spanish study shows

MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish virologists have found traces of the new coronavirus in a sample of Barcelona wastewater collected in March 2019, nine months before the COVID-19 disease was identified in China, the University of Barcelona said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the Novel Coronavirus 2019 (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory disease first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, January 29, 2020. Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM / CDC / Brochure through REUTERS.

The discovery of the presence of the virus genome so early in Spain, if confirmed, would imply that the disease could have appeared much earlier than the scientific community thought.

The team at the University of Barcelona, ​​which had been testing the wastewater since mid-April this year to identify possible new outbreaks, decided to also test older samples.

They first discovered that the virus was present in Barcelona on January 15, 2020, 41 days before the first case was officially reported there.

They then carried out 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.

“SARS-CoV-2 levels were low but positive,” said research leader Albert Bosch, cited by the university.

The research has been submitted for peer review.

Dr. Joan Ramon Villalbi, from the Spanish Society of Public Health and Health Administration, told Reuters that it was still early to draw definitive conclusions.

“When it comes to just one result, you always want more data, more studies, more samples to confirm it and rule out a laboratory error or methodological problem,” he said.

There is a possibility of a false positive due to the virus’s similarities to other respiratory infections.

“But it is definitely interesting, it is suggestive,” Villalbi said.

Bosch, president of the Spanish Society of Virologists, said that early detection even in January could have improved the response to the pandemic. Instead, the patients were likely misdiagnosed with the common flu, which contributed to community transmission before taking action.

Professor Gertjan Medema, from the KWR Water Research Institute in the Netherlands, whose team started using a coronavirus test in sewage in February, suggested that the Barcelona group needs to repeat the tests to confirm that it really is the SARS virus. -CoV-2.

Spain has registered more than 28,000 confirmed deaths and almost 250,000 cases of the virus so far.

Report by Emma Pinedo, Nathan Allen and Inti Landauro, written by Inti Landauro and Andrei Khalip, Angus MacSwan Edition

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