A new study claiming that the coronavirus arrived in Italy months earlier than anywhere else “ is proof ” that China may not be to blame for the spread of the deadly pandemic, officials say.
The Italian Cancer Institute (ICI) investigative report suggests the virus may have been active in Italy before the first suspected case was reported in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
If the data is correct, it would change the history of the pandemic and raise questions about where and when the virus emerged.
The first reported patients in Italy were on February 21, and were from a town near the northern city of Milan, Lombardy.
Chinese state media gave wide coverage and reported the latest study Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian says: “We have constantly seen and heard international reports about where and when COVID-19 first broke out.
“This shows once again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and international scientific research collaboration needs to be conducted by scientists worldwide to gain a better understanding of the animal reservoirs and the virus’ pathway of transmission. aim to protect you from risks in the future and protect the safety and health of people of all countries. “
He went on to say that tracing its origins is “an ongoing process that may involve many countries.”
“We hope that all countries will take a positive attitude and strengthen cooperation with WHO to advance work on tracing origins,” he said.
The research paper describes the presence of neutralizing antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in blood collected from healthy patients in Italy last October during a lung cancer study.
But several scientists interviewed by Reuters said further research was needed.
“These results are worth reporting, but above all should be understood as something to follow up with in further testing,” said Mark Pagel, professor at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, UK.
“All patients in the study were asymptomatic, even though most were 55-65 years old and were smokers. This would normally be a risk group for COVID-19, so it is a mystery why all patients were asymptomatic.”
A co-author of the study said he and his colleagues were planning further research and called on scientists around the world to contribute.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, the respiratory disease that causes it, were unknown
before the Wuhan outbreak was reported. But it has said that the possibility that the virus has “spread silently elsewhere” cannot be ruled out.
At least 55,573,000 infections and 1,336,000 deaths have been reported worldwide from COVID-19.
The findings of the Italian researchers show that 11.6% of the 959 healthy volunteers who took part in the cancer screening between September 2019 and March 2020 showed signs that they had already been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, the most well before February.
Another SARS-CoV-2 antibody test was conducted by the University of Siena for the same research report entitled “Unexpected Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies in the Pre-Pandemic Period in Italy”.
It showed that the antibodies could kill SARS-CoV-2 in six cases. Four of the cases date from October 2019, which means that the patients became infected in September.
“This number (six) is fully compatible with test errors and statistical noise. For these reasons, it seems to me that the evidence provided to support such an extraordinary claim is not solid enough,” said Enrico Bucci, biologist adjunct professor at the United States. Temple of Philadelphia University.
“Much ado about nothing,” Antonella Viola, a professor of general pathology at the University of Padua, told Reuters.
Both Italian scientists said the antibody test was designed in-house and never validated by other researchers in a peer review.
Most of the scientists’ skepticism focuses on the so-called specificity of the antibody tests, which, if not perfectly, can reveal the presence of antibodies against other diseases.
“Other recent reports have shown that seasonal coronaviruses can elicit cross-neutralizing antibodies,” said Jonathan Stoye, group leader at the Francis Crick Institute.
“I think we need a really conclusive demonstration that those samples pick up the COVID-19 virus and those antibodies weren’t really activated by any other virus,” Andrew Preston, reader in microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath, told me. Reuters.
Preston said he was surprised that those requirements weren’t necessary for the publication of a research paper.
The INT’s scientific director and study co-author is planning further research into the clinical study of the patients
“We need to understand if they had disease symptoms. Where they would have gone if they had been in contact with China,” Giovanni Apolone told Reuters, calling on colleagues around the world to “open their databases and conduct retrospective research.”