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Early Presence in Italian Sewage

An analysis of sewage samples from Italian cities suggests SARS-CoV-2 may have been present in two cities there in December, Reuters reports.

According to Reuters, officials from the Italian National Institute of Health examined 40 sewage samples obtained from wastewater treatment plants between October 2019 and February 2020. It adds that samples from Milan and Turin taken in mid-December tested positive for the presence of SARS-CoV-2.

Reuters notes this finding is in line with others that have suggested the virus may have been circulating before the initial case report came out of China in late December. France, for instance, reported that an analysis of a sample from a patient admitted to a hospital for a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing in late December came back positive for SARS-CoV-2.

"That COVID-19 could have been circulating in Italy is possible," Edinburgh University's Rowland Kao tells Reuters. "[This finding] does not on its own, however, tell us if that early detection was the source of the very large epidemic in Italy, or if that was due to a later introduction into the country."

Later sewage samples collected in January and February 2020 from Bologna, Milan, and Turin also tested positive, while earlier ones from October and November 2019 did not, it adds.

A number of cities and communities are exploring using sewage testing to monitor the levels of SARS-CoV-2 circulating there to predict when there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases.