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PLoS One. 2021 Dec 7;16(12):e0260947. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0260947. eCollection 2021.
BACKGROUND: On 9th January 2020, China CDC reported a novel coronavirus (later named SARS-CoV-2) as the causative agent of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Identifying the first appearance of virus is of epidemiological importance to tracking and mapping the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in a country. We therefore conducted a retrospective observational study to detect SARS-CoV-2 in oropharyngeal samples collected from hospitalized patients with a Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) enrolled in the DRIVE (Development of Robust and Innovative Vaccine Effectiveness) study in five Italian hospitals (CIRI-IT BIVE hospitals network) (1st November 2019 – 29th February 2020).
OBJECTIVES: To acquire new information on the real trend in SARS-CoV-2 infection during pandemic phase I and to determine the possible early appearance of the virus in Italy.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: Samples were tested for influenza [RT-PCR assay (A/H1N1, A/H3N2, B/Yam, B/Vic)] in accordance with the DRIVE study protocol. Subsequently, swabs underwent molecular testing for SARS-COV-2. [one-step real-time multiplex retro-transcription (RT) PCR].
RESULTS: In the 1683 samples collected, no evidence of SARS-CoV-2 was found. Moreover, 28.3% (477/1683) of swabs were positive for influenza viruses, the majority being type A (358 vs 119 type B). A/H3N2 was predominant among influenza A viruses (55%); among influenza B viruses, B/Victoria was prevalent. The highest influenza incidence rate was reported in patients aged 0-17 years (40.3%) followed by those aged 18-64 years (24.4%) and ≥65 years (14.8%).
CONCLUSIONS: In Italy, some studies have shown the early circulation of SARS-CoV-2 in northern regions, those most severely affected during phase I of the pandemic. In central and southern regions, by contrast no early circulation of the virus was registered. These results are in line with ours. These findings highlight the need to continue to carry out retrospective studies, in order to understand the epidemiology of the novel coronavirus, to better identify the clinical characteristics of COVID-19 in comparison with other acute respiratory illnesses (ARI), and to evaluate the real burden of COVID-19 on the healthcare system.