First known Covid case was vendor at Wuhan animal market, finds new analysis

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The first confirmed case of symptomatic COVID-19 can be traced to a female seafood vendor at a food market in Wuhan, according to a new analysis.

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The study noted that the first patient worked at the Chinese city of Huanan Live Animal Market and started feeling ill on December 11, 2019.

Michael Vorobey, a virus expert at the University of Arizona, stresses in the paper a cluster of early symptomatic cases in Huanan Market – specifically the western section where raccoon dogs (which are susceptible to coronaviruses) were held captive – ” provides strong evidence of a living-origin of animal market epidemics”.


Importantly, the report says, “the now famous ‘oldest’ Covid-19 case, a 41-year-old male accountant who lived 30 km (18.6 mi) south of Huanan Market and had no connection with the disease – Started as 8. December – seems to have fallen ill with covid-19 much later.

“When interviewed, he told that his COVID-19 symptoms started on 16th December with fever; December 8 disease was a dental problem related to the retention of baby teeth into adulthood. He believed he may have been infected while in the hospital (possibly during his dental emergency) or while traveling on the subway.

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Wuhan Hygiene Emergency Response Team at Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan City on January 11, 2020

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Wuhan Hygiene Emergency Response Team at Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan City on January 11, 2020

The evolutionary biologist explains in his research paper published in the journal Science, that this patient’s “symptom onset was followed by several cases in workers at Huanan Market, making the earliest known case there of a female seafood vendor in whom the illness began on 11 December”.

The report describes how authorities picked up on cases of mysterious pneumonia in hospitals in Wuhan in late December, when similar abnormal lesions were found in the lungs of several patients who underwent CT scans.

At the same time, public health officials in China were being alerted to cases, and as of January 1, 2020, the Huanan Market was closed and disinfected.

Dr Vorobey cautioned that the failure to sample the virus from nearby animals at the time of virus emergence could mean that it has never been possible to establish where animal spillover occurred, although the endemic patterns of early cases And additional genomic data may yet to be analyzed for certain. Prove the market to be the source of COVID-19. “Preventing future pandemics depends on this effort,” he said.

Chinese researchers collected hundreds of environmental samples shortly after the coronavirus was found, but it is not clear how many people or animals were tested.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) sent a team of experts to Wuhan to investigate what could now be attributed to the pandemic, which is now responsible for more than 5 million deaths worldwide.

In their analysis published in March, the WHO team concluded that the virus probably jumped from animals to humans, and they described the possibility of a laboratory leak as “extremely unlikely”.

China responded by saying that officials should “focus on other possible avenues that could help trace the origins of COVID-19” and suggested studies should be conducted in other countries.


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