Covid-19: Sars-CoV-2 is said to have been detected in wastewater samples from Barcelona in March 2019

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Wastewater samples from March 12, 2019 were positive

In Italy, wastewater samples were positive from mid-December

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Human cells affected by Sars-CoV-2. Picture: NIAID /CC BY-2.0

Several studies confirm that Sars-CoV-2 was already circulating in Europe from November, at the latest from December 2019

A study appeared early on, according to which Covid-19 could have spread in France by the end of December, when Covid-19 broke out in Wuhan and officially still as lung infections reported has been. Only in early January was an epidemic reported. Covid-19 infection was subsequently detected from samples taken from the airways of a patient who had come to the intensive care unit of a hospital in northern Paris with hemoptysis (coughing up blood) at the end of December.

And there was another report from the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Colmar that there were said to be the first Covid-19 infected in France on November 16. Until then, two French people who came back from Wuhan were considered the first to be infected – on January 24. The first registered Covid 19 case in Wuhan occurred on November 17. Following a call from the WHO to investigate pneumonia cases from the end of 2019 to clarify the spread of Covid 19, 2456 thorax scans were performed retrospectively from November 1 to April 30. Almost all Covid-19 sufferers have changes in the lungs such as frosted glass-like infiltrates on CT images.

US intelligence agencies are also said to have warned the Israeli government about the outbreak of an epidemic in Wuhan in the second half of November 2019. Another report said there were warnings of a potentially “catastrophic event” to the Pentagon and the White House in late November. After a genetic analysis of samples from Covid-19 sufferers, scientists from Cambridge, Münster and Kiel assume that the new coronavirus could have spread to humans sometime between September and November.

In Spain, scientists like those published in one on medRxiv on June 27th Preprint write weekly samples on Sars-CoV-2 in two sewage treatment plants in Barcelona between April 13 and May 25, but also frozen samples from January-March 2018, January, March, September-December 2019 and January-March 2020 for Sars-CoV-2 with a PCR test from Invitrogen, Life Technologies. In the two sewage treatment plants, the amount of viruses decreased from April to the end of May until nothing could be detected, while virus genomes were still detected in sewers.

In the archived samples from January 15 to March 4, however, the virus concentration increased steadily. Sars-CoV-2 was discovered in wastewater on January 15, 41 days before the first Covid-19 case was announced in Spain on February 25. The scientists suspect that infected people were initially misdiagnosed as influenza carriers in primary care. In addition, a high proportion of Covid-19 carriers are asymptomatic.

With one exception, the archived samples from 2018 and 2019 did not contain any Sars-CoV-2 viruses. However, samples from March 12, 2019 were positive. According to the scientists, this suggests that the virus circulated worldwide long before any report of a Covid 19 case. Barcelona is a commercial and business center as well as a place where many large events take place, which attract visitors from all over the world: “Nevertheless, similar situations with the unnoticed Covid 19 case circulation are likely to occur in various other parts of the world could be.”

The scientists recommend that wastewater be analyzed for prevention, because “wastewater-based epidemiology” can be used to determine early if a virus is spreading among the population. However, you have to know what viruses you are looking for. If the finding is correct and it is not a test error that Sars CoV-2 viruses were already present in Barcelona in March 2019, this would mean that the first major outbreak of the infection took place in Wuhan, that the city but is not the place of origin.

A British-Polish team of scientists has in one study suggests that Sars-CoV-2 is not only passed on via aerosols, but that this can also be done through water contaminated with wastewater. The virus could survive up to 25 days in water, apparently better in colder wastewater, which is why the Covid 19 pandemic could be more pronounced in northern countries in the winter months. Floods or overflowing sewage systems can contaminate drinking water, which is particularly dangerous in slums or refugee camps without safe sewage systems.

In Italy, scientists from the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) health authority Traces of the Sars-CoV-2 virus were found in the waste water from Turin, Milan and Bologna in mid to late December. They examined 40 wastewater samples taken between October 2019 and February 2020 and 24 samples from September 2018 to June 2019. The latter were all negative, while on December 18, 2019 in Milan and Turin and on January 29, 2020 in Bologna, the first samples were positive . The scientists explain that the detection of Sars-CoV-2 at the end of 2019 does not prove that the main transmission route for Italy is here. They also propose a wastewater monitoring system for the early detection of epidemics.

So it is uncertain whether the find in March 2019 is an outlier or a mistake, but several studies show that Covid-19 was already circulating in Europe from November, at the latest in December.

This is in contradiction to a published one studywho is trying to reconstruct the spread of the virus in Europe with genome analyzes. After that, Covid-19 was imported 2-4 times from Hubei to Italy, Germany, Spain and other European countries before March 8th. However, there were only isolated cases from mid-January. From March 8th, a variant (A2a) developed in Europe, probably in Italy, from mid-January to mid-February. After an examination, two thirds of all genetic samples from infected people in Europe show this variant. Presumably from Italy, where the first major outbreak occurred, Covid-19 spread to other countries before the travel bans, while no migration from Hubei was likely to further spread to and between European countries.

The scientists also refer to the fact that the first Covis 19 cases were detected in Germany on January 28 and in France on February 21. Of the cases discovered in Europe by February 21, 14 were infected in China, 14 presumably in Germany, 7 presumably in France. In 12 cases, the infection cannot be localized. The scientists concede that due to the few Covid-19 samples and above all the fact that many infections are asymptomatic and have not been recognized, the results should be treated with caution (see also: Covid-19: over 30 variants with many genetic differences).
(Florian Rötzer)

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