Unlike the Easter Bunny, these rabbits can’t hop. Scientists have solved the mystery of the ‘hand-standing’ bunnies.

Sauteur d'Alfort rabbits hopping
The typical posture of a Sauteur d’Alfort rabbit when walking.

  • Sauteur d’Alfort rabbits walk on their front legs, as opposed to hopping on their hind legs.
  • Scientists finally have an explanation as to why this species has such a peculiar gait.
  • The ‘hand-standing’ rabbits walk on their forelegs because of a genetic mutation, a PLoS study found.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sauteur d’Alfort rabbits, also known as Alfort jumping rabbits, have a peculiar way of moving.

Instead of hopping on their hind legs, like other bunnies, the Sauteur d’Alfort rabbits lift their back legs from the ground and ‘hand-stand’ on their forelegs.

They then scurry forward on their front paws, maintaining their balance.

Read more: Here are 10 companies hoping to cash in on the boom in edible worms and crickets

Ever since the species was first discovered in 1935, scientists have been baffled as to why the furry creatures are unable to hop or jump like most other rabbits.

Academics from PLoS Genetics– a peer-reviewed scientific journal – now have an explanation, Gizmodo reported.

The unusual gait can be explained by a genetic mutation, the study found.

This species has a warped RORB gene, BBC Newsround said. “This was the only mutation that stood out as really striking,” Miguel Carneiro, an academic at the University of Porto, told the media outlet.

A mutation in the RORB gene can result in the loss of spinal cord interneurons.

“When you move, these neurons fire all the time, they coordinate muscle contractions and know if the other limbs are in balance,” Leif Andersson, a co-author of the study, told Gizmodo. “This coordination of muscle contraction is not correct in these rabbits.”

In the Sauteur D’Alfort rabbits, these interneurons were either less abundant or totally absent, the study said. This, in turn, results in the loss of saltatorial locomotion – the ability to jump or hop.

The hand-standing is a result of the rabbits working around their inability to travel like other species, the study said.

Baby rabbits of this species learn, after a few months, to walk solely on their front legs to compensate for the genetic mutation and consequent spinal defects, the New Scientist said.

It’s unlikely that the quirky gait causes the animals any pain, Gizmodo reported.

The team of 12 scientists solved the mystery of the hand-standing rabbits after an experiment involving the breeding of a Sauteur d’Alfort rabbit with another species that can hop and jump normally, Slate reported.

The scientists then sequenced the DNA of the 50 or so descendants, the Smithsonian Magazine said.

Some of the baby rabbits had hand-standing gaits and scientists were able to identify the mutation in the code at the RORB gene in these animals, the magazine added.

Previous studies have shown that RORB mutations in other animals, such as mice, can interfere with normal movement. RORB-deficient mice waddle like ducks, the PLoS study said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Suspicions mount that the coronavirus was spreading in China and Europe as early as October, following a WHO investigation

covid researchers wuhan
A worker in protective coverings directs members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team on their arrival at the airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on January 14, 2021.

  • Experts from the WHO and China conducted an investigation into the coronavirus’ origins in Wuhan.
  • The investigation bolstered findings from studies that suggested the virus was circulating in China and Europe months before officials confirmed the first cases.
  • One study found that some people in the US had coronavirus antibodies in December 2019.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A growing body of evidence suggests the coronavirus was spreading globally months before the first cases in a Wuhan market captured global attention last December.

The World Health Organization sent an international team to China in January to investigate the virus’ origins and when it started circulating.

The team assessed medical records from more than 230 clinics across Hubei – the province where Wuhan is located – to look for clues. More than 90 patients in the province were hospitalized with pneumonia or coronavirus-like symptoms in October and November 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

This finding lends credence to other research from China that shows people were getting sick in Wuhan in November and early December. One analysis, based on satellite images of Wuhan hospitals and online searches for COVID-19 symptoms in the area, suggested the virus may have started circulating there as early as late summer.

A study from Milan’s National Cancer Institute also found that four of Italy’s coronavirus cases dated back to October 2019. Another study suggests the virus reached the US’ West Coast in December 2019.

Although pinpointing the exact date of the virus’ first jump from animals to people is impossible without more data, these findings suggest the pandemic’s December anniversary is arbitrary.

The virus was spreading in Wuhan before the December

Wuhan hospital
Healthcare workers transport bodies outside a hospital in Wuhan, China, February 5, 2020.

Wuhan public-health officials initially told the WHO about a mysterious illness that would later be named the novel coronavirus on December 31, 2019.

But government records show China’s first coronavirus case happened on November 17, 2019, according to an investigation by the South China Morning Post.

According to the SCMP, Chinese medical experts pinpointed 60 coronavirus cases from November and December by reanalyzing samples taken from patients seen during that time. That analysis showed that a 55-year-old from Hubei was the first known case of COVID-19 in the world, though the disease hadn’t been identified at that time.

Prior to the January WHO investigation, Chinese authorities worked to sample blood from 92 people in Hubei who were hospitalized with coronavirus-like symptoms prior to the start of the pandemic.

They sampled blood from two-thirds of those patients that to check for coronavirus-specific antibodies, which would indicate the patients had previously been infected with the virus. All of the samples tested negative for those antibodies, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The remaining one-third of those 92 patients had either died or refused to participate in antibody testing.

The negative results may not mean those people didn’t have COVID-19. Antibody levels do decrease over time, particularly after mild cases. But those patients were also hospitalized, suggesting a more severe illness.

“Antibodies do clear. The levels go down, but less so in cases of severe infection,” Marion Koopmans, a virologist on the WHO team, told the Wall Street Journal. “From what we know about serology, out of 92 cases you would at least have some positives.”

A study from researchers at Harvard University did find more people were visiting Wuhan hospitals in the latter half of 2019. The study authors used satellite imagery of the city to measure traffic to six city hospitals. They saw an uptick starting in August 2019, which peaked six months later. This timeline coincided with an increase in online search traffic for terms like “diarrhea” and “cough.”

The Wuhan market was not the origin of the pandemic

Wuhan lockdown
Security personnel wear masks walk in front of a field hospital in Wuhan on April 9, 2020.

Among the 41 coronavirus cases, Wuhan first reported, many were people who visited or worked at the city’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.

But according to an April report, 13 of the 41 original cases had no link to the market – which suggests the market wasn’t the origin site of the pandemic.

The WHO team confirmed the virus didn’t make its initial jump from animals to humans at the Huanan market. Evidence suggests the virus was circulating elsewhere in Wuhan before the market outbreak happened, Liang Wannian, a member of China’s National Health Commission who assisted with the WHO investigation, said in a press conference Tuesday.

wuhan wet market
This wet market in Wuhan, China, pictured on January 21, 2020, was linked to one of the earliest coronavirus outbreaks.

A May investigation also led the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention to rule the market out as the origin place of the outbreak. That’s because none of the animals there tested positive for the virus.

Most likely, the market was simply the site of an early superspreader event, with one sick person infecting an atypically large number of others. Superspreader events around the world have created clusters of infections that cropped up almost overnight. 

Research suggests the virus was in Italy in the fall of 2019

italy coronavirus
A COVID-19 patient is transported by nurses inside a biological containment stretcher in the Da Procida Hospital in Salerno, Italy, April 8, 2020.

Italy recorded its first official coronavirus case in Lombardy on February 21, 2020. Yet a recent study found coronavirus antibodies in blood samples collected from 23 Italians in September 2019 and 27 in October 2019.

“Our results indicate that SARS-CoV-2 circulated in Italy earlier than the first official COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Lombardy, even long before the first official reports from the Chinese authorities, casting new light on the onset and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the authors wrote. (SARS-CoV-2 is the clinical name of the virus.)

A study conducted by Rome’s Department of Environment and Health supports that conclusion: Researchers found the coronavirus’ genetic material in sewage samples from Milan and Turin dating back to December 18, 2019.

italy coronavirus mask flag
A man walks past a billboard raising awareness about the new coronavirus that reads “All together, without fear,” in Naples, Italy on March 22, 2020.

Spain and France also found clues that the virus was circulating in 2019

In May, doctors at a Paris hospital discovered that patients they’d treated for pneumonia on December 27, 2019, had been sick with COVID-19. France didn’t record its first official case until January 24, however.

Barcelona, Spain, COVID-19 coronavirus August 31 2020
People in line for coronavirus tests in Barcelona, Spain, on August 31, 2020.

In Spain, meanwhile, researchers from the University of Barcelona found evidence of the coronavirus in city sewage samples collected in mid-January 2020, six weeks before the country’s first official case. 

Surprisingly, a sewage sample collected on March 12, 2019, also tested positive for traces of the coronavirus. But testing wastewater isn’t a perfect way to detect outbreaks, as Claire Crossan wrote in The Conversation. So it’s possible that the March sample had been contaminated during the study. 

By December 2019, the virus had reached the US

california beach pier coronavirus oceanside crowd masks
Few people wear masks on a pier in Oceanside, California, June 22, 2020.

Research in the US, too, offers evidence that the virus had gone global before humanity even knew it existed.

The US recorded its first coronavirus case on January 20, 2020. But according to one study, the virus had reached the Pacific Northwest at least a month earlier. Blood samples collected by the American Red Cross in nine states, including California, Oregon, and Washington, showed that some Americans had coronavirus antibodies as early as December 13, 2019.

Detroit tests for antibodies
A young resident of Detroit, Michigan, is tested for coronavirus antibodies on April 28, 2020.

Antibodies are an imperfect measure of the outbreak since some research suggests our immune systems can create antibodies that recognize the new coronavirus in response to some common colds. Antibody tests can also yield false positives.

Yet in the past, scientists successfully used retrospective antibody studies to trace the origins of SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) – both coronaviruses. Virologists found antibodies specific to SARS in civet cats, and antibodies specific to MERS in camels, which is how they determined those to be each virus’ animal progenitor.

Further examination of blood samples taken in 2019 could be the best way to find out when this pandemic really began.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The US sequences 0.01% of its coronavirus cases – a glaring Achilles’ heel in the country’s pandemic response

covid testing college students
A college student in Chicago, Illinois gets tested for COVID-19.

Thousands of coronavirus strains circulate all the time.

Each version of the virus is separated by a handful of tiny changes in its genome. To keep tabs on these strains, and identify which ones may be better at infecting humans or evading vaccines, researchers must genetically sequence samples of the virus.

In the last five months, experts in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil have identified more transmissible variants that could exacerbate the pandemic.

But the US has limited capacity to spot variants on its own: The country genetically sequences less than 0.01% of its 26.5 million coronavirus cases – only three out of every 1,000.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that dismal track record is a “somewhat inexcusable deficiency.”

The UK does “many, many, many fold more sequenced surveillance than we do,” Fauci said during the Precision Medicine World Conference in January. “We really have got to build that up.”

The US is 30th in the world in genetic sequencing 

UK testing antibody
A UK paramedic holds a blood sample for a COVID-19 testing program in June 2020.

The UK sequences 45 out of every 1,000 coronavirus cases – about 15 times the number of cases that are sequenced in the US. These efforts likely helped UK researchers detect the more infectious B.1.1.7 strain outside London in September.

Studies have shown that B.1.1.7 is between 56% and 70% more contagious than its viral predecessors. UK officials said in January that people infected with B.1.1.7 may face a higher risk of death than those who get other strains, though more data is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

But even the UK’s sequencing efforts pale in comparison to those in Iceland, Australia, and New Zealand. These nations have sequenced 64%, 41%, and 35% of their coronavirus cases, respectively – the most of any countries so far, according to data from GISAID, a global database that collects coronavirus genomes.

The US ranks 30th on that list – behind countries like Canada, China, Papua New Guinea, and the Republic of Congo – an improvement from its 43rd ranking in December.

Jeff Zients, coordinator of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force, called the situation “totally unacceptable” during a White House briefing on January 27. More genetic sequencing, he said, “will allow us to spot variants early, which is the best way to deal with any potential variants.”

Indeed, knowing where a more transmissible variant is spreading could inform public health measures and travel bans, among other mitigation measures. A country lacking proper genetic surveillance has no way of knowing if a strain is spreading silently within its borders – and that “comes back to bite us,” Fauci said during the January conference.

Variants were circulating undetected in the US

covid scientist lab coronavirus testing samples
Scientists work in a lab testing COVID-19 samples at New York City’s health department, April 23, 2020.

To identify which coronavirus strain has infected a patient, scientists need to map out roughly 30,000 genetic letters in a sample of the patient’s blood or saliva.

The process is time-consuming. Samples collected from patients aren’t always sent in for sequencing and a limited number of labs can complete the genetic analysis.

“Part of the challenge of recognizing these variants is a lack of public health laboratory infrastructure in order to do the surveillance,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently told JAMA.

Nearly all of the US’s initial cases of B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 – another more infectious variant first found in South Africa – involved patients with no travel history. This suggests the strains have been spreading undetected for some time. 

The US didn’t report its first case involving B.1.1.7 until December 29, at least three weeks after the variant entered the country, according to some disease experts

The US’s first B.1.351 cases, reported last week in South Carolina, were detected by chance. Researchers had been testing random samples “in order to identify any instances of the variant viruses,” the state health department said in press release.

Preliminary research published last month suggests vaccines might not provide as much protection against B.1.351, and people who have already been infected with a different version of the virus could get reinfected with the new strain.

The more you look, the more you’ll find

fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate hearing in June.

According to Fauci, the CDC is working on partnering with the National Institutes of Health to improve the US’s sequencing infrastructure.

The agency launched a consortium in May called SPHERES to coordinate and standardize genomic sequencing in the US. But “poor funding, coordination, and capacity” has resulted in “patchy” data, according to a report from the National Academies of Science.

Fauci said SPHERES is working on consolidating all the sequencing data from independent US labs by “streaming it into one accessible database so that we can do much more than we’re doing.”

Coordinating sequencing efforts is crucial to improving the country’s pandemic response.

The more viral genomes countries sequence, “the more able we are to spot new lineages” like B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, according to Lucy van Dorp, a geneticist at the University of College London Genetics Institute.

This probably won’t be the last time we learn of a new, potentially more infectious strain, she told Insider.

“There may be other similar variants elsewhere which have not been detected in other regions of the world due to less intensive sequencing efforts,” she said. 

los angeles coronavirus testing
A long line for COVID-19 testing at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in Los Angeles, California on July 29, 2020.

Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said on Twitter last month that the US likely had its own “homegrown variants” circulating. 

California researchers confirmed Hotez’s prediction in a preliminary study published on January 20: Experts at Cedars-Sinai Medical detected a new variant called CAL.20C, which represented 24% of all coronavirus cases in Southern California in December.

There’s no indication that the variant is more transmissible yet, but the researchers said CAL.20C may have contributed to LA’s record case surge over the last few months.

Read the original article on Business Insider

When the coronavirus runs rampant, mutations and new strains are more likely, experts say. That may be what happened in the UK.

London coronavirus face mask
A woman stands a crosswalk in London, England, on October 15, 2020.

The surest way to boost the chances of a worrisome coronavirus mutation: let it spread unchecked.

“More infected people means more opportunity for the development of mutations. More movement of people … means new variants can spread faster,” Dr. Shira Dohon, an infectious-disease specialist at Tufts Medical Center, told Business Insider.  

When viruses infect a body, they replicate. More spread means more replication, which raises the likelihood of genetic errors. So in places where transmission is high, we are more likely to see a harmful variant emerge, experts say.

That may be what happened in the UK.

Earlier this month, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that a new coronavirus strain was responsible for an uptick in cases in the south of England. The variant quickly overtook all other versions of the virus in the country, he said. By December 9, six out of every 10 coronavirus cases in the UK were the new variant, which government leaders suggested may be 70% more infectious than its predecessors. 

UK researchers first detected the variant three months ago, after a second wave of infections started on the heels of a summer of indoor dining, drinking, and exercising. The variant was found just week’s after the UK reported 2,988 cases on September 6 – its highest daily record since late May.

Until just last week, London was in the second-lightest tier of coronavirus lockdowns, which allowed pubs to remain open and limited spectators at sporting events and performances. 

“Virus mutations can only accumulate if the virus is allowed to be transmitted. So the longer that we allow uncontrolled transmission to occur, the more chances that the virus will have to adapt to human transmission,” Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Medicine, told Business Insider.

Why the UK coronavirus strain is concerning

Boris Johnson
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the nation, December 11, 2020.

Countless versions of the coronavirus are circulating, each separated by a handful of tiny changes in its genetic code. The virus typically accumulates two mutations a month, many of which “have no real public-health impact,” Grubaugh said.

Most of the mutations don’t affect the virus’s infectiousness or deadliness, according to Lucy van Dorp, a researcher at University College London’s Genetics Institute.

But every so often, she told Business Insider, “a mutation, or combination of mutations, can arise which confers an advantage to the virus in some way.”

That may be the case with the new UK strain, which geneticists have named B.1.1.7. It collected at least 17 mutations at once. Experts believe the strain could have emerged in a patient who was infected for a long time, allowing the virus to mutate in their body, Science magazine reported.

Some of the strain’s mutations affect the virus’ spike protein, which it uses to invade cells. That could make it easier for the virus to infect people.

coronavirus molecules
An illustration of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

Not all scientists agree that the new strain is 70% more infectious, though Grubaugh said existing data suggest it “is associated with increased transmission.”

Indeed, 236,275 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK between December 17 and 23 – a 61% increase from the week before. The number of daily new cases has doubled in the last two weeks, to almost 40,000 per day. A couple of hotspots have more than 1,100 cases per 100,000 residents. Between mid-November and December 9, the variant jumped from being responsible for 28% of London’s cases to 62%.

South Africa, too, is dealing with a new coronavirus strain that appears to be more transmissible and shares one mutation related to the spike protein with the UK strain.

Neither of these strains, however, seem to be more deadly. And virologists don’t think the mutations threaten the efficacy of vaccines – they should still work.

‘The more replication, the more opportunities for evolution’

london coronavirus lockdown
Masked travelers on a London Underground platform, September 24, 2020.

From June to September, the entire UK was put in the middle tier of its COVID alert level system. Restrictions were eased: Bars and gyms opened in July, and more than 100 million discounted meals were served to indoor diners in August via the government’s Eat Out to Help Out plan to stimulate the restaurant sector.

But that reopening may have happened too quickly. One researcher estimated Eat Out to Help Out was linked to almost 20% of all new UK infection clusters in August. London, where new daily cases were in the dozens in July, saw that figure spike to more than 1,000 by the start of October. Summer days with record lows of just 400 to 500 new cases in the UK gave way to daily fall totals of 4,000 to 5,000 new infections.

“The more replication, the more opportunities for evolution and adaptation,” Richard Neher, an epidemiologist tracking coronavirus strains with the Nextstrain project, told Business Insider.

Neher added, though, that since it’s hard to predict what prompts a virus to evolve and when particular mutations will arise, “the chance of this happening might not be exactly proportional to the number of cases.”

The new variant shouldn’t be blamed for all the spread

The new variant has an increased reproductive, or R0, value – the average number of people one sick person infects – of 1.5 rather than 1.1, the World Health Organization announced Monday. That difference of 0.4 means 100 sick people will infect another 150, not 110, on average. 

“However, that does not mean that it is responsible for the rising cases in London and the surrounding area,” Dohon said. She and Grubaugh both emphasized that human behavior and mitigation measures play a big role, too. 

“If we have a higher proportion of the population that distances and wears masks, it will stop the virus, variant or not,” Grubaugh said.

UK Tier 4 Lockdown Travel
Passengers wait in line at London’s Heathrow Airport amid the city’s tier 4 lockdown on December 22, 2020.

Indeed, CDC noted that although a variant may dominate a geographic area, “that fact alone does not mean that the variant is more infectious.” A strain could just get lucky, arising by chance in populous areas at the time when a government relaxes restrictions.

These same questions emerged after a different variant of the virus was detected earlier in the pandemic. That strain also has a mutation affecting the spike protein. It’s predominantly the version that spread in Europe and North America last winter, and it’s now more prevalent worldwide than the original virus that emerged in China. Some evidence suggests the strain is more infectious, but it might also have just hit the US and Europe at a moment when testing was limited and lockdowns hadn’t yet been implemented.

‘Variants rarely stay a local problem’

UK coronavirus
A sign on England’s M56 motorway informs drivers that all routes into France are closed on December 21, 2020.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson placed 16 million people in southeastern England under a tier 4 lockdown, the UK’s strictest, on Saturday. Soon after, at least 27 countries have blocked travel from the UK.

But it’s already too late.

“Variants rarely stay a local problem,” Neher said.

Genetics data reveal the strain is present in Scotland and Wales, as well as Denmark, Belgium, Iceland, and the Netherlands. There are a handful of cases in Italy, Australia, Gibraltar, and Singapore, too. Grubaugh said it hasn’t been found in the US yet.

But that may be because US keeps tabs on the genetics of far fewer coronavirus samples than the UK and South Africa do. Only 51,000 of the 17 million US cases have been genetically sequenced, so “the mutation could be more widespread and we just don’t know it,” Grubaugh said.

Van Dorp thinks that’s likely, as does Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci told PBS NewsHour on Monday that he “would not be surprised” if the UK strain is already in the US.

“When we start to look for it, we’re going to find it,” he said.

That reality leaves only one real option, Grubaugh said: “If a country is worried about the new variant being introduced and causing increased local transmission, a more effective plan is to put measures in place to decrease local transmission.”

London UK coronavirus
People on the London Underground on September 25, 2020.

He added that his won’t be the last time we learn of a new, potentially more infectious strain.

“Have there been others? Possibly, and maybe they didn’t perpetuate for some reason,” he said. “Will there be others in the future? Likely.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

The coronavirus was circulating in Europe and China months before officials identified the outbreak in Wuhan, studies show

italy coronavirus mask flag
A man walks past a billboard that reads “All together, without fear,” in Naples, Italy, March 22, 2020.

  • December 31 marks the anniversary of the first confirmed coronavirus cases in Wuhan.
  • But a growing body of evidence suggest the virus was circulating in China and some European countries months before that.
  • In the US, meanwhile, a study found that some people had coronavirus antibodies in December 2019.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Almost exactly one year has passed since the World Health Organization announced the first confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.

Yet the virus’ origin and the true timeline of its worldwide spread remain a mystery. A growing body of evidence now suggests it was circulating months before the first cases captured global attention in Wuhan, China.

A study from Milan’s National Cancer Institute found that four of Italy’s coronavirus cases dated back to October 2019. Research from China shows people were getting sick in Wuhan in November and early December: One analysis, based on satellite images of Wuhan hospitals and online searches for COVID-19 symptoms in the area, suggested the virus may have started circulating there as early as late summer.

Although pinpointing the exact date of the virus’s first jump from animals to people is impossible without more data, many studies suggest the pandemic’s December anniversary is arbitrary.

“It is perfectly possible that the initial cross-species transmission event did not happen in or around Wuhan itself,” Edward Holmes, a virologist at the University of Sydney, told The Guardian.

The virus was spreading in Wuhan before December

Wuhan hospital
Healthcare workers transport bodies outside a hospital in Wuhan, China, February 5, 2020.

Authorities in Wuhan initially told the WHO about a mysterious, new virus on December 31. But government records show China’s first coronavirus case happened on November 17, 2019, according to an investigation by the South China Morning Post.

According to the SCMP, Chinese medical experts pinpointed 60 coronaviruses cases from November and December by reanalyzing samples taken from patients seen during that time. That analysis showed that a 55-year-old from Hubei province (where Wuhan in located), was the first known case of COVID-19 in the world, though the disease hadn’t received that name yet.

Wuhan lockdown
Security personnel wear masks walk in front of a field hospital in Wuhan on April 9, 2020.

In another study, researchers at Harvard University used satellite imagery of Wuhan to measure traffic to six city hospitals. They saw an uptick starting in August 2019, which peaked six months later. This timeline coincided with an increase in online search traffic for terms like “diarrhea” and “cough,” the study authors found.

Even an investigation of the Wuhan market linked to many of the early cases has shown that it wasn’t the origin site of the pandemic. Among the 41 coronavirus cases Wuhan first reported, many were people who visited or worked at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. But according to a report in The Lancet, 13 of those original cases had no link to the market

wuhan wet market
This wet market in Wuhan, China, pictured on January 21, 2020, was linked to one of the earliest coronavirus outbreaks.

A May investigation also led the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention to rule the market out as the origin place of the outbreak. That’s because none of the animals there tested positive for the virus.

Most likely, the market was simply the site of an early superspreader event, with one sick person infecting an atypically large number of others. Superspreader events around the world have created clusters of infections that cropped up almost overnight. 

Research suggests the virus was in Italy last fall

italy coronavirus
A COVID-19 patient is transported by nurses inside a biological containment stretcher in the Da Procida Hospital in Salerno, Italy, April 8, 2020.

Italy recorded its first official coronavirus case in Lombardy on February 21. Yet a recent study found coronavirus antibodies in blood samples collected from 23 Italians in September and 27 in October.

“Our results indicate that SARS-CoV-2 circulated in Italy earlier than the first official COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Lombardy, even long before the first official reports from the Chinese authorities, casting new light on the onset and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the authors wrote. (SARS-CoV-2 is the clinical name of the virus.)

A study conducted by Rome’s Department of Environment and Health supports that conclusion: Researchers found the coronavirus’ genetic material in sewage samples from Milan and Turin dating back to December 18, 2019.

doctors coronavirus front line
Nurses embrace at a hospital in Lombardy, Italy, March 15, 2020.

Spain and France also found clues that the virus was circulating in 2019

In May, doctors at a Paris hospital discovered that a patients they’d treated for pneumonia on December 27 had been sick with COVID-19. France didn’t record its first official case until January 24, however.

Barcelona, Spain, COVID-19 coronavirus August 31 2020
People in line for coronavirus tests in Barcelona, Spain, on August 31, 2020.

In Spain, meanwhile, researchers from the University of Barcelona found evidence of the coronavirus in city sewage samples collected in mid-January, six weeks before the country’s first official case. 

Surprisingly, a sewage sample collected on March 12, 2019 also tested positive for traces of the coronavirus. But testing wastewater isn’t a perfect way to detect outbreaks, as Claire Crossan wrote in The Conversation. So it’s possible that March sample had been contaminated during study. 

By December 2019, the virus had reached the US

california beach pier coronavirus oceanside crowd masks
Few people wear masks on a pier in Oceanside, California, June 22, 2020.

Research in the US, too, offers evidence that the virus had gone global before humanity even knew it existed.

The US recorded its first coronavirus case on January 20. But according to one study, the virus had reached the Pacific Northwest at least a month earlier. Blood samples collected by the American Red Cross in nine states, including California, Oregon, and Washington, showed that some Americans had coronavirus antibodies as early as December 13, 2019.

Detroit tests for antibodies
A young resident of Detroit, Michigan, is tested for coronavirus antibodies on April 28, 2020.

Antibodies are an imperfect measure of the outbreak, since some research suggests our immune systems can create antibodies that recognize the new coronavirus in response to some common colds. Antibody tests can also yield false positives.

Yet in the past, scientists successfully used retrospective antibody studies to trace the origins of SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) – both coronaviruses. Virologists found antibodies specific to SARS in civet cats, and antibodies specific to MERS in camels, which is how they determined those to be each virus’ animal progenitor.

Further examination of blood samples taken in 2019 could be the best way to find out when this pandemic really began.

Read the original article on Business Insider