A study conducted by The Italian National Institute of Health (ISS) on sewage waste collected from northern Italy suggests COVID-19 was there, even before China announced its first cases in Wuhan.
The study undertaken by the institution involved collecting wastewater from forty sewages in northern Italy between October 2019 to February 2020.
Results revealed late Thursday suggests the virus might have been lurking in Italy’s northern side as genetic traces of SARS-CoVI-2 has been found in sewage samples collected from Milan and Turin on December 18, Reuters reports. However, samples from October and November turned negative, suggesting the virus did not arrive.
An environmental wastewater expert from The Italian Institute of Health who co-led the research told in a statement that the current findings will help them trace the onset of virus circulation in Italy. ISS says this finding confirms ‘sewage waste’ can be of “strategic importance” because it signals the presence of a virus long before it arrives, the BBC reports.
However, the researcher confirmed that the presence of the virus in Italy did not automatically imply these first cases were the starting point of the mass transmission of the virus in Italy, leading to an epidemic.
Studies conducted by scientific teams in other places of the world – on a smaller scale – also found that traces of the virus can be detected in sewages, like in Australia, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and elsewhere.
Italy’s first non-imported case showed up in Lombardy. By February 21st, Italy declared the region a ‘red zone’ and in early March the country went into lockdown, BBC reports.
ISS says they’ll launch a pilot project of monitoring sewage water in tourist resorts in July, with an aim to gradually developing a nationwide sewage water monitoring system by the end of 2020.
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