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Possible Early Cases

World Health Organization investigators have uncovered about 90 people in central China who were hospitalized in autumn 2019 with what may have been COVID-19, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The WHO team arrived last month in Wuhan, China, where the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak was first identified, to search for the source of the virus. Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the investigators said that bats remain the likely origin of the virus and that they had collected a few new details about the early stages of the outbreak.

According to the Journal, the team uncovered 92 patients in Hubei Province, which is home to Wuhan, with COVID-19 symptoms from about two months before the disease was first identified. It adds that officials in China have tested about two-thirds of the patients for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, but found none, though WHO investigators add that it's uncertain whether antibodies would be detectable a year later.

If any of these cases do reflect COVID-19, the Journal notes it suggests the virus was circulating more widely in the region before it was detected and could explain the presence of possible COVID-19 cases in Europe and the US in November and December 2019

The WHO team has suggested wider antibody testing be conducted in Hubei, it adds.