COVID-19 could have been present in Italy as early as December, scientists have claimed, after they found traces of the virus in sewage water collected from Milan and Turin.
The Italian National Institute of Health looked at 40 sewage samples collected from wastewater treatment plants in northern Italy between October 2019 and February 2020.
An analysis discovered samples taken in Milan and Turin on 18 December showed the presence of COVID-19 – more than two weeks before China reported its first cases.
“This research may help us understand the beginning of virus circulation in Italy,” said Giuseppina La Rosa, who co-led the research.
A spokeswoman for the institute said the full data and study would be published next week and announced plans to monitor wastewater in tourist resorts from July.
Researchers across the world have found signs that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be detected in sewage, and many countries are beginning to sample wastewater to track the disease.
And scientists said the detection of traces of the virus before the end of 2019 was consistent with evidence in other countries that coronavirus may have been circulating before China reported the first cases on 31 December.
A French study found that a man was infected with COVID-19 as early as 27 December – nearly a month before the country confirmed its first cases.
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