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COVID was in Europe weeks before first confirmed cases, Norwegian study finds

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COVID was in Europe weeks before first confirmed cases, Norwegian study finds

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Norwegian researchers say COVID-19 was probably much more widespread in Europe and around the world, before a first official diagnosis was made.

Scientists at Akershus University Hospital near Oslo identified a positive coronavirus result in a blood sample taken from a pregnant woman on December 12, 2019 and say she was likely infected in late November or early December.

“Our findings are changing the story of the corona outbreak in Norway and around the world,” said Anne Eskild, professor and chief medical officer at Akershus.

“We actually found four out of 1,500 tests on pregnant women who were positive before the first case in France was diagnosed,” she told Euronews.

A cluster of pneumonia-like cases was identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019, and on January 12, 2020, Chinese authorities shared the genetic sequence of the fast-spreading new novel coronavirus.

According to Eurosurveillance, the European journal on surveillance, epidemiology, prevention and control of infectious diseases, the first three European cases were confirmed in France on January 24, 2020 after showing symptoms a few days earlier.

In May 2020, it was reported that another French patient, treated for pneumonia in hospital on December 27, 2019, had tested positive for COVID-19 after analysis of a swab taken at the time.

Professor Eskild says his research shows the virus existed long before these French cases.

“The catchment area of ​​our hospital includes women who come from all over the world. I think some of the women who were HIV-positive were born or had been, or had relatives or visitors from all over the world,” she explains.

“The conclusion to this is that since the women in our catchment area come from all over the world, the virus may have been all over the world before the Chinese announced the epidemic.

How the research was conducted

As part of pregnancy care in Norway, blood samples are taken from all pregnant women to check for sexually transmitted infections.

The samples are stored anonymously, for the purpose of monitoring potential infectious diseases and were therefore available to researchers investigating the origins of the spread of COVID-19 in the Nordic nation.

“There are probably few other countries that have access to stored blood samples at the population level, and so there are few or no other retrospective studies,” says Eskild.

The teams’ findings have been published in the Cambridge University Press Journal of Epidemiology and Infection.

COVID was in Europe weeks before first confirmed cases, Norwegian study finds

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