Coronavirus could have appeared in China since August 1:24

. – Satellite images of hospital parking lots in Wuhan, as well as internet search trends, show that the coronavirus may have spread in China in early August, according to a new study from Harvard Medical School.

The study, which has not yet been seen in pairs, found significantly more cars in parking lots at five Wuhan hospitals in late summer and fall 2019 compared to the previous year; and an increase in keyword searches associated with an infectious disease in China’s Baidu search engine.

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Put together a complicated puzzle

The researchers saw “a sharp increase in volume beginning in August 2019 and culminating in a spike in December 2019,” the team, led by Boston Children’s Hospital chief innovation officer John Brownstein, wrote in a published preprint. on the Harvard DASH server.

Using images from October 2018, the researchers counted 171 cars in the parking lots of one of Wuhan’s largest hospitals, Tianyou Hospital. A year later, satellite data showed 285 vehicles in the same lots, an increase of 67% and an increase in traffic of 90% over the same period in other Wuhan hospitals.

“Individual hospitals have relative high volume days in both fall and winter 2019. However, between September and October 2019, five of the six hospitals show their highest relative daily volume in the series analyzed, coinciding with high levels of Baidu’s search queries for “diarrhea” and “cough,” they wrote.

“It’s about trying to put together a complicated puzzle of what was happening at the time,” Brownstein told CNN.

“The data is actually especially compelling because we saw increases in people looking for gastrointestinal illnesses, diarrhea, increasing to a level that we haven’t seen at all, historically, and now we know that gastrointestinal symptoms are really an important marker for covid,” added. “A large percentage of people who actually ended up testing positive in Wuhan actually had symptoms of diarrhea.”

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Satellite surveillance of infectious diseases

The use of “validated data streams” for respiratory disease surveillance is not new and is also a technique used by intelligence agencies.

“Hospital and business parking lots can be a relative indicator of something happening in a population,” said Brownstein. “Actually, we published this years ago, where we showed that hospitals in Latin America were super busy during the flu season. You could predict the flu season just by looking at the parking lots. ”

And that was the idea in this study, he said.

“We can’t now clearly prove what was driving some of these signals, but it adds to mounting evidence that something was happening before it was officially recognized,” he said.

“While we cannot confirm that the increase in volume was directly related to the new virus, our evidence supports other recent work showing that the emergency occurred prior to Huanan Seafood being identified in the market,” according to Brownstein and his team. “These findings also corroborate the hypothesis that the virus naturally arose in southern China and was potentially already circulating at the time of the spread of infection in Wuhan.”

It’s also easy to miss the first signs of a pandemic, Brownstein said. “If the same thing happened in EE. In the US, we may well have overlooked these signs as well. So I think it is about the idea that we need to strengthen our public health efforts and also strengthen our public health surveillance. ”

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The United States discovered in early January that a respiratory epidemic was spreading through Wuhan, but it would be weeks before the first US case was identified. USA, in Seattle, and the federal government would begin to take any action.

“We also have the challenges of lack of evidence in this country, so the signals here that the transmission was happening were probably also overlooked and we didn’t know that either.”

Since then, more than 7 million people have been infected with the deadly virus worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, with more than 404,000 global deaths and more than 110,000 deaths in the United States.