The SarsCov2 virus was circulating in Italy as early as September 2019, therefore well before what had been thought so far. The confirmation comes from a study by the Cancer Institute of Milan and the University of Siena, which has as its first signatory the scientific director Giovanni Apolone, published in the Tumori Journal.
Analyzing samples of 959 people, all asymptomatic, who had participated in lung cancer screenings between September 2019 and March 2020, 11.6% (111 out of 959) of these people had antibodies to the coronavirus, of which the 14% already in September, 30% in the second week of February 2020, and the largest number (53.2%) in Lombardy.
The World Health Organization has said the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the respiratory disease it causes, were unknown before the outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, in central China, in December.
Italy’s first COVID-19 patient was detected on Feb. 21 in a little town near Milan, in the northern region of Lombardy.
The Italian researchers’ findings, published by the INT’s scientific magazine Tumori Journal, show that 11,6% of 959 healthy volunteers enrolled in a lung cancer screening trial between September 2019 and March 2020, had developed coronavirus antibodies well before February.
A further specific SARS-CoV-2 antibodies test was carried out by the University of Siena for the same research titled “Unexpected detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the pre-pandemic period in Italy”.
It showed that four cases dated back to the first week of October were also positive for antibodies neutralizing the virus, meaning they had got infected in September, Giovanni Apolone, a co-author of the study, told Reuters.
“This is the main finding: people with no symptoms not only were positive after the serological tests but had also antibodies able to kill the virus,” Apolone said.
“It means that the new coronavirus can circulate among the population for long and with a low rate of lethality not because it is disappearing but only to surge again,” he added.
Italian researchers told Reuters in March that they reported a higher than usual number of cases of severe pneumonia and flu in Lombardy in the last quarter of 2019 in a sign that the new coronavirus might have circulated earlier than previously thought.