Clues to Covid-19s Origins Include Anonymous Skin Sample in Italy – The Wall Street Journal

MILANIn the quest to understand how the Covid-19 pandemic began, one persistent mystery is an Italian woman who researchers say they can no longer find.

Members of a World Health Organization-led team studying the origins of the virus want to investigate the case of a 25-year-old Milan resident who in November 2019 visited a hospital with a sore throat and skin lesions: symptoms of a disease that wouldnt be discovered in the city of Wuhan in China for another month. She left behind a skin sample, smaller than a dime, that in two tests conducted more than six months later yielded traces of the Covid-19 virus, according to research published in January by the British Journal of Dermatology.

Additional studies of the womans case, scientists say, could help determine how long the virus was circulating in China and elsewhere before a cluster of cases erupted at Wuhans Huanan seafood market in December 2019. The Covid-19-positive skin sample, sitting in wax in a researchers office in Milan, is an example of the scattered clues about the pandemics early days that the WHO-led investigation is pursuing outside of China, where the pandemic began.

You cannot ignore it, said Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, a member of the WHO-led team, referring to the Italian case in an April interview. She said the case offered enough evidence to merit broader investigation into whether the virus had spread to Italy by November 2019.

The problem, researchers say, is that none of them know who or where she is. Milans Policlinico hospital and the University of Milan, which oversaw her case, said they dont have her details. Raffaele Gianotti, the dermatologist who treated her, died in March, days before the WHO-led team asked for more research into his patient. Covid-19 didnt cause his death, said his wife, Roberta Massobrio.

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Clues to Covid-19s Origins Include Anonymous Skin Sample in Italy - The Wall Street Journal

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