The coronavirus was in the US long before the discovery: could the cold in January and February to be COVID-19

With the recent news that two Californian died from COVID-19 in February, three weeks earlier than was the first U.S. death from the disease, it became clear that the coronavirus was spreading in the United States long before it was discovered. This writes Fox News.

Коронавирус был в США задолго до обнаружения: могла ли простуда в январе и феврале быть COVID-19

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Many raised the question whether this strange cough or recurrent fever, which was in late January or February, could be COVID-19. Experts say that it’s not impossible, but not exactly. At that time, the virus is definitely circulated in the country. However, it is unknown how it was distributed, especially in comparison with other respiratory diseases the winter season.

“The onset of coronavirus in the United States coincided with the peak of flu season, so the symptoms that you had, it was very easy to confuse with flu,” said Matteo Tinazzi, researcher at northeastern University in Boston, he is a member of the team that simulates the spread of the virus around the world.

Chronology COVID-19

Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was first discovered in the United States in January. It was a 35-year-old man examined on January 19, four days after returning from Wuhan to Washington.

But only a month later, on 26 February, the Centers for control and prevention (CDC) confirmed the first known case of infection with coronavirus from a resident of California, who had no known contact with infected. Just a few days later, a group of researchers studied the samples to test for influenza in Washington state, found a sample that contained the genetic sequence of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. It belonged to a teenager who contracted the virus.

Then it became clear that the first cases of spread of the virus among the population in the United States was not at the end of February, and in January when I was diagnosed and reported only cases associated with travel to China.

This is evident for several reasons. First, small genetic differences between coronavirus teenager from Washington state and samples from China suggest that the virus came from Wuhan and circulate, gradually mutating for about five weeks, wrote in his blog, a researcher of infectious diseases Trevor Bedford Research center Fred Hutchinson.

Secondly, the latest mortality data also indicate the spread of the coronavirus among the population in January. It was believed that the first recorded death from the coronavirus in the United States was a man aged 50 years, who died February 28, in king County, Washington. But autopsy results in Kirkland, Washington, has shown that the first known death from the coronavirus in the United States occurred on February 26.

However, on April 22, the CDC confirmed based on the results of the autopsy that two people in the County of Santa Clara (CA) died COVID-19 6 and 17 February. None of them had travel history to China, and is believed they contracted it from another person. As COVID-19 typically has an incubation period of 5 to 14 days and the average person is sick for another 2 weeks before he died, the February death show that these people are sick COVID-19 in the middle and the end of January.

Based on these data we can say that the virus got to new York in early January, and in California by mid-January.

“Our model is, apparently, indicates that the first appearance of the virus in new York city occurred around the beginning of January, and in General, we see that by the end of February, most States have been infected,” he said Finazzi.

The first confirmed transmission of coronavirus from person to person in new York was the attorney of Westchester County, who went to the hospital on February 27. Genetic studies samples of the virus in new York now show that the spread in the community started by the end of January, mainly due to travelling from Europe.

Epidemiologists in Colorado believe that the coronavirus appeared in the Rocky mountains somewhere between 20 and 30 January, according to Elizabeth Carlton, epidemiologist from the School of public health, University of Colorado. First, simple calculations based on when the first detected cases in Colorado, indicate that these people are sick in this period of time. Second, models that Carlton and her colleagues use to track and predict cases in Colorado, conform to the idea that the first cases in the state originated in the period from 20 January to 30 January.

“Ski season in Colorado begins in January, so it is easy to imagine that someone from one of the States of the Western coast came to Colorado to ski and brought the disease, said Carlton. Is only one of many possible options.”

Information about excess mortality in comparison with previous years can also help to identify when the coronavirus was in a particular state. For example, in Florida The Sun-Sentinel reported that the surge in mortality associated with pneumonia in mid-March may indicate an emerging outbreak of coronavirus, which began at least at the end of February.

Was there a cough in January and February COVID-19?

Given the differences in the timing of the arrival of the virus and severity of outbreaks at the moment, the probability that any respiratory disease in January or February can be COVID-19, depends on where you live: it is much more likely that a resident of Manhattan in new York contracted the virus, compared with a resident of Manhattan, Kansas.

Flu season overshadows the problem. No national information service of statistics of cases of influenza, and many people who has the flu, not doing the test to confirm the diagnosis, so no one knows exactly how many cases of influenza occurred in January or February. But, according to the CDC, in the US there were from 39 to 56 million cases of influenza during the period from October 2019 through April 2020. This means that at the peak of flu season in January and February the number of cases of influenza virus infection is probably much higher than the cases of coronavirus in the United States.

It is also difficult to extrapolate today’s numbers to estimate the prevalence of coronavirus in January and February. This is because many cases COVID-19 is still not diagnosed during testing, and the researchers still don’t know how many people are infected with coronavirus, experience only mild symptoms or no symptoms, said Carlton and Tinazzi.

Test for the presence of antibodies, which seek proteins of the immune system produced when the body fights the virus can approximate the number of people exposed to coronavirus. The study, in which officers were selected grocery stores and tested their blood for antibodies to the coronavirus, it was found that 1 in 7 people in new York state and nearly 1 out of 4 in new York city has been exposed to the coronavirus.

It is unclear whether these results are common in the General population — for example, people who stay at home to avoid visits even grocery stores may have lower levels of contamination. However, given that the virus is spreading exponentially among the population, an extrapolation back to January or February significantly reduces the number of active cases, and this means that probably only a small portion of people in the city were sick COVID-19 at the time.

This means that if you had respiratory symptoms in new York in January or February, most likely, the probability that it was the flu or seasonal circulating coronavirus, even higher.

In other places the probability that the coronavirus was in January or February, less is possible. In two conflicting studies in California, the percentage of people affected ranged from 2.5% to 4.2% in the County of Santa Clara and to 5.6% in Los Angeles, but these data have been criticized as being likely overstated.

In Colorado, as estimated by the epidemiologists, 1% of the population already has COVID-19. According to Carlton, cough or fever in February, more than was probably COVID-19 than in January, just because it could eventually be circulating more occasions. But there is great uncertainty in assessing the 1%, given limitations in testing and a broad range of severity of symptoms, said Carlton.

“It’s a question that everybody is interested to answer,” she said. “How many people do that?”

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