More early cases of COVID-19 in humans, animals must be tested for virus origins

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A staff member handles nucleic acid test samples at a new coronavirus detection lab in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, February 22, 2020. Photo:Xinhua

China's position on the next phase of #virusorigins tracing: Investigations should be conducted in countries such as those where horseshoe bats and pangolins reside, those with animal data positive for the virus and who supplied the Wuhan Huanan market through cold chain logistics.  Publisher: Yang Ruoyu / GT Graphics: Xu Zihe / GT

China’s position on the next phase of #virusorigins tracing: Investigations should be conducted in countries such as those where horseshoe bats and pangolins reside, those with animal data positive for the virus and who supplied the Wuhan Huanan market through cold chain logistics. Publisher: Yang Ruoyu / GT Graphics: Xu Zihe / GT

As the World Health Organization (WHO) plans its next phase of study into the origins of COVID-19, China has made it clear that the next phase study is expected to be conducted in multiple locations around the world, including places outside of China where samples of humans and animals before the Wuhan outbreak tested positive for COVID-19.

Liang Wannian, team leader of the Chinese side of the joint expert team convened by the WHO on the tracing of origins, said at a recent press briefing attended by more than 160 representatives and ambassadors of international organizations and embassies that the next phase of the study should be conducted in several locations around the world covering countries where horseshoe bats and pangolins reside, countries that lack sufficient testing, places with animal and human samples that have tested positive for COVID-19, and that have supplied the Wuhan Huanan market through cold chain logistics.

The proposal came as evidence in countries like the United States and Italy mounted to suggest that COVID-19 cases already existed in several countries before the outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

And the WHO has started working with some countries, including Italy, to test the first samples. In a statement released Aug. 12, the WHO said it was “working with a number of countries that have reported the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in samples of biological specimens stored from 2019”.

For example, in Italy, the WHO facilitated an independent evaluation by international laboratories of the results of one such study, which included a new blind test of pre-pandemic blood samples, the WHO said. .

A WHO spokesperson told the Global Times the agency is in contact with researchers who published the study suggesting early circulation of COVID-19 among asymptomatic individuals in Italy several months before the first patient is identified, and a collaboration with partner laboratories was set up for other tests of samples available from Italy during this period.

The study, mentioned by WHO, was published in November 2020 by the National Cancer Institute (INT) in Milan which showed COVID-19 antibodies were detected in blood samples from 111 of 959 people. enrolled in a lung cancer screening trial between September 2019 and March 2020.

Not only in humans, but early infections involving animals such as the American white-tailed deer have also been reported frequently.

A Chinese member of the WHO-China Joint Study Team Tracing the Origin of the Virus told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that there are two possible avenues that can be taken to help locate the source of the virus: one consists of finding the first human cases and testing the animals that these first cases had been contacted; and the other is to test a wide range of animals susceptible to the coronavirus, including cats, deer and mink.

Peter Forster, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge, told the Global Times he was not surprised that there may be cases earlier than those in China.

Forster suggests that it is useful to think about the three stages in the origins of the virus: when and where did it cross the species barrier from bats to humans, and when and where did it start to spread among humans.

“My dating suggests between September and December 2019,” the geneticist said.

First human cases

Italy was the first western country to be hit hard by the epidemic, with the first known case reported in the Lombardy region on February 21, 2020. But a recent article as part of the Preprints project with The Lancet by a A group of researchers from universities in countries like Italy and the United States said they had found evidence that the virus was circulating in Lombardy from late June to early August 2019. The document has not been peer reviewed.

The article investigated 156 of 435 samples, isolated RNA from throat swabs and urine samples, and then subjected them to Sanger sequencing, a method to determine the nucleotide sequence of DNA, and detected mutations to estimate the time of virus emergence.

The article, however, did not speak to the origins of the virus, Sayaka Miura, associate professor in the biology department at Temple University, who also co-authored the article told the Global Times. Still, she stressed that “the discovery of the virus in Italy in the summer of 2019 means that the virus was already spreading at least in Italy long before the epidemic in China”.

She admitted that more data from 2019 is needed and that more retrospective studies from many different countries will help better understand the beginnings of the virus’ spread.

Researchers in the article compared the sequences obtained to the strain found in Wuhan and found that the October 2019 sequences already carried variants that were absent in the first sampled strains reported in Wuhan.

Comparison of samples in Italy and China showed that infected cases in Italy were not patient zero and both variants had the same progenitor but due to the complicated symptoms of COVID-19 it is difficult to locate the patient zero, said the anonymous Chinese scientist. .

The scientist said that is why more countries should work together to find the first samples and find patient zero.

A study of more than 24,000 samples taken for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) research program in the United States between January 2 and March 18, 2020 suggests that seven people in five states – Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – may have been infected long before the country’s first confirmed cases were reported on January 21, 2020.

Since the start of 2020, people in various countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have said on social media that they have symptoms similar to COVID-19 in December or even November 2019, before the start of 2020. Wuhan epidemic.

American personalities also shared their experience. Michael Melham, the mayor of Belleville, New Jersey, said he believed he had the virus in November 2019 and was suffering from chills, hallucinations and a “skyrocketing temperature” after leaving a conference in Atlantic City, local media northjersey.com reported in April 2020.

The mayor tested positive for the antibody later, and he advocated for more people to take the antibody tests.

However, some US media distorted his statement and some claimed that his statement was “without merit”.

Obviously, the US media noticed that many Americans tweeted that they had symptoms similar to COVID-19 as early as December 2019 or January 2020, but what this media did is ask these people to stop, which sparked speculation that they were hiding something by not encouraging people to talk about it.

A local New Jersey media outlet, nj.com, ran an op-ed in May titled “Stop Saying You Think You Have Coronavirus.”

Even the mayor suspected it, asking in a tweet if reputable media were considering a story about Americans who believed they had COVID-19 before January 2020.

“What about only those who test positive for antibodies?” What’s the secret ? Who is hiding what and why? ” He asked.

It is certainly worth examining those people who have listed their symptoms similar to COVID-19, the scientist said, noting that the United States should perform serum tests on all possible patients because China has tested for serum on samples before December 2019 but found none. tested positive for nucleic acid or containing antibodies.

Animal samples

David L Robertson, a professor at the MRC-University of Glasgow Center for Virus Research, told the Global Times that available data supports COVID-19 is caused by a naturally occurring virus that likely emerged from horseshoe bats and, like SARS, it was likely through contact with infected intermediate host animals in Wuhan markets.

Sampling over larger geographic areas for horseshoe bats is very important if we are to find the origin of SARS-CoV-2 and prevent the risk of a future overflow, he said. commenting on a new article he co-authored, which said horseshoe bats are widely dispersed from east to west China, as well as Southeast Asia and Japan.

The anonymous scientist also urged countries where large numbers of certain animal infections were reported in early 2020 or late 2019 to perform more animal nucleic acid testing and analyze the sequences to find the possible animal that first transmitted the virus to humans.

So far, many types of animals such as mink, cats, tigers and deer have reportedly been infected with viruses. A recent study showed that white-tailed deer in four US states in 2021 had antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, indicating that they had been exposed to the virus.

However, the United States is closing its doors on origin tracing in the country and is demanding another round of origin tracing investigations in China.

As Joe Biden’s deadline for the 90-day investigation into the origins of the virus draws to a close, the United States is stepping up efforts to manipulate the American media into discrediting China, forcing China’s neighbors to participate in his campaign to smear China as “the source of the coronavirus”. He also reportedly used vaccine aid, talent training, and industrial investment as bait, and lobbied the WHO and rallied US allies, including the EU, Australia and Japan. to promote a “second phase tracing origin” investigation into China despite its own research institutions and allies believing that the virus was almost certainly not created by artificial means, sources told the Global Times previously.

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