A four-year-old boy in Italy contracted COVID-19 as early as November 2019 — suggesting the virus had been spreading around the world before previously known.
The child from a town outside of Milan came down with a cough on Nov. 21, 2019, and was brought to the hospital about a week later, according to a report Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He was suspected of having measles after coming down with symptoms that included vomiting, respiratory problems and rashes, according to researchers from Milan’s Department of Biomedical Sciences for Health.
But tests performed retroactively on a Dec. 5, 2019, sample from him showed he was positive for the virus, despite it being three months before the illness was confirmed in the region.
Researchers said they were unable to determine the origin of the virus strain since the specimen was taken from the boy’s throat, instead of his nose.
But the boy had not traveled outside of Italy around the time of his diagnosis — which suggests that the virus was already circulating there in late fall, researchers said.
“Long-term, unrecognized spread of SARS-CoV-2 in northern Italy would help explain, at least in part, the devastating impact and rapid course of the first wave of COVID-19 in Lombardy,” the authors wrote.
China has previously tried to push the theory that the contagion broke out in Italy — not in its city of Wuhan.
Officials in Beijing pointed to another study that suggested the virus may have been spreading in the European nation as early as September.
Scientists, however, have noted that even if the virus was in Italy earlier than previously known, it does not rule out the outbreak originating in China.
“We know that China delayed announcing its outbreak so there is no telling when it started there, and China has very strong commercial links with northern Italy,” Giovanni Apolone of Milan’s National Cancer Institute told the Times of London.