The origin story of the coronavirus becomes increasingly mysterious as time goes on, with each new study seeming to bring more questions than answers. This week, researchers at the University of Barcelona have published new findings that suggest the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in sewage samples from March of 2019.
If confirmed in follow-up studies, this is a groundbreaking finding because the samples date back nine months before COVID-19 was first identified in China.
The discovery was made because a team at the University of Barcelona began testing waste-water to identify new outbreaks before they began, but they decided to start looking at older samples as well and were surprised to find traces of the COVID-19 coronavirus in samples dating back to last year.
“The levels of SARS-CoV-2 were low but were positive,” research leader Albert Bosch said, according to Reuters.
It is important to note that this study is a preprint, which means that it has not undergone peer review yet.
Dr. Joan Ramon Villalbi of the Spanish Society for Public Health and Sanitary Administration cautioned that it is still too early to draw any conclusions from this research because further study is needed to confirm the team’s findings.
“When it’s just one result, you always want more data, more studies, more samples to confirm it and rule out a laboratory error or a methodological problem. But it’s definitely interesting, it’s suggestive,” Villalbi said.
Some experts suggest that the virus could have been around for much longer than was initially believed. It is possible that people who caught the illness could have been misdiagnosed with the flu for the past year. In fact, even before the coronavirus was identified, health officials were warning about an especially bad flu season. It is very possible that it took everyone a while to fully understand what was taking place.
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Image Credit: Raman Venin