New evidence shows coronavirus had already spread to the West before Christmas with Californian doctors saying they had patients with symptoms in December.
Despite the Chinese government not reporting it to the World Health Organisation until December 31, scientists believe there may have been many cases in LA by the end of 2019.
Doctors at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Health have investigated millions of medical records and found a spike in admissions with coughs and lung failure beginning in December, which continued to February, MailOnline reports.
It was originally thought these cases were the flu, but there were 50% more admissions than the hospital system had seen during that period for the previous five years.
It is now thought that between December and February there may have been as many as 1,000 coronavirus patients in Los Angeles.
‘We may never truly know if these excess patients represented early and undetected Covid-19 cases in our area,’ said lead study author Dr Joann Elmore, a internal medicine professor at UCLA.
But her findings suggest that at least some cases of cough and respiratory distress in LA were linked to the pandemic.
‘The pandemic has really highlighted our need for agile health care analytics that enable real-time symptom and disease surveillance using electronic health records data,’ said Dr Michael Pfeffer, a study co-author and chief information officer for UCLA Health.
‘Technology, including artificial intelligence powered by machine learning, has further potential to identify and track irregular changes in health data, including significant excesses of patients with specific disease-type presentations in the weeks or months prior to an outbreak.’
The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, analysed more than 10 million patient records from between December 1, 2019 and February 29, 2020.
Visits to clinics for coughs exceeded the average number of outpatient visits for similar complaints during that same period by more than 50%, and coughs were appearing in similarly high numbers in emergency rooms.
And 18 more patients than would have been expected in a typical year had to be hospitalised for acute respiratory failure.
The researchers noted that, at the time, LA hospitals were also seeing more cases of cough and respiratory illness suspected of being caused by vaping, although rates of e-cigarette use had started falling in the county since September 2019.
Nearly 250,000 people in LA have now been diagnosed with Covid-19, with 700 new cases a day. More than 6,000 people have died with the illness in LA but its new daily infections are finally starting to decline.
The first official coronavirus case in LA was identified on January 26, in a 38-year-old man from Wuhan who was in the city for a layover at the airport with his family on their way home from a holiday in Mexico.
His illness hit suddenly while at the massive airport on January 22, and he asked a customs officer for help. He was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre where his location was reportedly kept quiet for weeks.
The traveller remained the only known coronavirus case in LA for five weeks, despite it being a heavy flu season in the area.
A second case wasn’t confirmed in the county until March 3. The next day the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, declared a statewide of emergency.
The report was published after a British family came forward with a coroner’s report saying their relative, 84-year-old Peter Attwood, died of coronavirus after catching it in December.
The Chatham, Kent resident had reported symptoms of the virus on December 28, with his daughter falling ill two weeks earlier.
Jane Buckland, 46, says her father’s death suggests the virus could have been spreading in the UK as early as November: ‘If China hadn’t lied to the rest of the world and kept this hidden for so long, it could have saved countless lives.’
Mr Attwood’s death came two months before the first death was officially recorded in Britain and has been officially attributed to the disease, despite China not announcing its existence until after the grandfather had already caught it.
Beijing has long claimed the disease was first recorded in a market in Wuhan just before Christmas.
But traffic reports and aerial images of car parks in Wuhan now suggest coronavirus could have been around for weeks or even months beforehand.
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