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Researchers say an Italian boy tested positive for coronavirus in November 2019 – a revelation which has dramatic implications for the timeline of when the virus was spreading.
The Covid-19 outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December last year – although Chinese authorities now admit there were cases dating back to November, amid global scepticism about whether the country has been open about what it knew and when.
The study in Italy adds to evidence that the virus may have been spreading far earlier than initially thought and even around Europe in autumn 2019 – months before the first official Italian case in February 2020.
Scientists identified the Covid-19 infection in a swab taken in early December 2019 from a 4-year-old boy. He lived near Milan and first developed a cough and other symptoms in November.
But they did not say where the child had been or who he had been around.
It is also unclear if he infected others – with children less likely to spread the virus.
In the study, the researchers went back and looked at throat swab specimens that had been collected from 39 patients between September and February. One from the boy tested positive.
The researchers noted that the Italian child developed cold and flu-like symptoms in November and then a measles-like rash in early December.
Scientists at the University of Milan led the study which was published this week by the editorially independent medical journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Last month a separate study suggested the virus may have been circulating in Italy as early as September 2019.
Another study found Covid-19 in sewage around Turin and Milan in December.
Italy reported 499 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday, compared with 634 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 12,756 from 14,842.
The country has seen 61,739 reported deaths in total, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain.
Northern Italy was badly hit during the first wave of the virus, with scenes in hospitals that are thought to have panicked the UK government ahead of the first lockdown.
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