It has been one year since the first coronavirus patient began showing symptoms for the virus that has since paralyzed the world, according to a published study. The first cases are known by the international medical community to have originated in Wuhan, China, but the exact origins are still unclear.
According to a study published in The Lancet in late January, the first patient began showing symptoms in December 2019, but their family never developed any fever or respiratory issues. In fact, researchers were unable to find an epidemiological link between who they believed to be the first patient and later cases. The study was written by Chinese researchers who looked at the first 41 hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19 infections.
During a press briefing Monday, the World Health Organization committed to finding the origins to prevent similar future outbreaks. “We want to know the origin and we will do everything to know the origin,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO, told reporters.
The virus eventually left China’s Hubei province, before spreading to areas around the world including Europe and eventually the United States, where the first case was believed to be detected in Washington state on Jan. 20. However, a newly published government study suggests the coronavirus may have reached the United States weeks earlier than previously thought. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found COVID-19 antibodies in dozens of blood donations taken between Dec. 13, 2019 to Jan. 17, 2020. Worldwide there have been over 63 million cases and more than 1.4 million deaths.
Health officials fear the number of coronavirus cases could spike in the U.S. following indoor gatherings during Thanksgiving. Many areas are now facing strict new coronavirus measures to help curb the virus’s spread. However, there is hope on the horizon as several vaccine candidates await emergency authorization from federal regulators.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.
The mysterious and growing cluster of unexplained pneumonia cases in the Chinese city of Wuhan has infectious disease experts parsing limited public statements from Chinese authorities for clues to what is happening. With machine-translated reports that the outbreak might be caused by a new virus, and perhaps even a new coronavirus — the family of viruses that produced both SARS and MERS — watchers are hoping that Chinese authorities will provide additional information soon.
“I think we need to give them a couple of days but I want to hear something from a credible source on the investigations that are ongoing,” said Marion Koopmans, director of the department of virology at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
The infections are linked to a large seafood market where it is believed some exotic animals were also sold for consumption in Wuhan.The World Health Organization has said little about the outbreak beyond that it is in close contact with China authorities on the issue.
Ralph Baric, a coronavirus expert at the University of North Carolina, agreed that China has deep expertise in virology. Baric has a collaborative grant with some researchers in Wuhan to study emerging coronaviruses, and has visited the facilities there.
“Wuhan is the epicenter for a lot of virology research in China. They have state of the art BSL3 and BSL4 facilities and world-class facilities to do anything that you would want to do on new emerging infectious diseases. So, it’s occurring in the right spot,” he said. BSL is shorthand for the bio-safety level designation of a laboratory; level 3 and level 4 are the labs in which the most dangerous pathogens are worked on.