Scientists analyzed blood samples donated to the American Red Cross during a period between last December and early January of 2020 and found evidence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19, and the new research suggests that it was introduced to the U.S. before Jan. 19.
According to The Wall Street Journal, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied samples of blood from 7,389 donations from Americans in nine states to see if any of them had the antibodies to COVID-19. This would suggest that an individual contracted the disease and developed antibodies as an immune response to ward off another attack by the virus.
According to the Journal, they found antibodies in 39 blood samples drawn as early as Dec. 13, 2019, in California, Oregon, and Washington. In total, scientists identified 84 blood samples with antibodies from the donations.
Their results add to a growing body of evidence that COVID-19 was spreading outside of China well before it was previously thought. Chinese officials did not notify the World Health Organization until Dec. 31 that a new pathogen had been spreading in Wuhan, according to ABC News.
It is not the first time researchers have found evidence of early infections. According BBC News, a patient in France was treated for pneumonia on Dec. 27 and the nasal swab taken at the time was later tested for COVID-19. It came back positive, indicating that the virus arrived in Europe much earlier than previously thought.
The CDC researchers also found that the virus is more widespread in the U.S. than current statistics show and said that approximately one in every eight cases have been identified. Their modeling estimate indicates that 53 million Americans likely had COVID-19 by the end of September, whereas there were only 6.9 million confirmed infections during that same time period.
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