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Uptick in ‘diarrhea’ online searches suggests Covid-19 may have been in China since August – Harvard study

Uptick in ‘diarrhea’ online searches suggests Covid-19 may have been in China since August – Harvard study
The novel coronavirus outbreak may have started months before it was detected in Wuhan, China in December, according to a group of researchers. But they acknowledged their stunning findings are not conclusive.

Satellite images from Wuhan, as well as search engine data, point to the possibility that Covid-19 was spreading in the city as early as last August, a paper published by Harvard Medical School has argued.

The team of researchers behind the study examined high-resolution satellite imagery of hospital parking lots in the Chinese city, and determined that there had been an uptick in hospital visits in late summer of 2019.

They also poured over search engine data from the Chinese tech giant Baidu. The team discovered that there was a noticeable increase in search engine queries about “diarrhea,” which has been identified as a symptom of Covid-19 that is not commonly linked to normal respiratory illnesses.

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Taken as a whole, the data points to the disease circulating in the city months before first being detected at a seafood market. However, the researchers conceded that their conclusion required further investigation.

“While we cannot confirm if the increased volume was directly related to the new virus, our evidence supports other recent work showing that emergence happened before identification at the Huanan seafood market,” they wrote. They added that they believe the data also supports the idea that the virus “emerged naturally.”

The original epicenter of the disease – as well as its origins – have been hotly debated by health experts and politicians alike. Last month, a French professor revealed that a blood sample taken in December from a pneumonia patient tested positive for Covid-19. The finding challenges when the disease first began spreading to Europe.

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