People in five states were infected with COVID-19 as early as December 2019, before the first confirmed case in the U.S., according to a government study in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal published Tuesday.
From the 24,079 participants with who gave blood samples for a National Institutes of Health research program from Jan. 2 to March 18, 2020, nine tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, seven of whom were positive prior to the first confirmed cases in the states of Illinois, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi, the study found.
The results show that COVID-19 was infecting Americans before officials confirmed the virus was in the country. The low number of positive antibody tests from the results suggests that the first cases were sporadic, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The nine individuals who the study identified weren’t from large cities or metropolitan areas, where some of the first cases were originally reported. Instead, they were from wide ranging areas of the country stretching from Mississippi to Massachusetts.
It is not clear if any of the nine individuals who tested positive for antibodies had traveled to an area where the virus was circulating, Dr. Althoff, lead author and associate professor of epidemiology at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the WSJ. (RELATED: A Comprehensive Timeline Of The Novel Coronavirus)
She said the results of the study emphasize the need to have tests widely available in a virus outbreak, because at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, due to a lack of testing, officials only tested individuals who had traveled to a country that had COVID-19 spread and missed many positive cases.
“Oftentimes, especially with something like a respiratory viral infection, the first case we see is not the very first case in whatever geographic region,” Althoff told the WSJ. She said finding isolated cases of an infectious disease that predate an outbreak is a usual pattern in an outbreak.
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