SCIENTISTS from the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid have revealed findings from studies on the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Spain.
Studying the genetic make up of the virus in the very first patients to be diagnosed, researchers have ruled out the theory that there was a ‘patient zero’ who caused the dramatic outbreak throughout the country.
The team of scientists have studied nearly 1,600 different varieties of the SARS-CoV-2 genome and discovered that the earliest cases could be traced back to late January, much earlier than previously thought.
On February 23, Emergency Coordinator of the Ministry of Health, Fernando Simon announced that there were no cases of coronavirus in Spain at that point, but research has shown that it was already incubating in a number of patients.
Research has also shown that in the majority of cases, the cases of coronavirus in Spain are all of very similar types, which is good news, according to biochemist Francisco Diez.
Of the 28 different complete genomes detected, they could be split into three types, S, G and V.
The identification of these types and their similarities, along with the discovery of very few mutations, means that developing a vaccine is not as potentially complicated as it could be.
The research showed that the origin of the disease was the Chinese city of Wuhan around November 24, as has already been found.
Since then, similar strains of the virus were detected in Valencia on February 26 and 27, a week after the Champions League tie between Atalanta and Valencia, dubbed a ‘biological bomb‘, took place in Milan.
However strains of the virus were traced on mainland Spain before the game was played, as early as February 14, leading scientists to rule out the match was the initial cause of the infection.
It was well documented the first recorded case of COVID-19 in Spain was February 1, from a German tourist on the island of La Gomera who had recently attended a training course in Munich with a Chinese colleague who had family in Wuhan.
Virologist Jose Alcami, from the Valencian Fisabio foundation explained that while the research is by no means perfect or complete due to incomplete samples, it does indicate that there was no ‘patient zero’ responsible for the spread of the virus.
“There is no patient zero when an epidemic is already so widespread,” stressed geneticist Fernando González Candelas, colleague of Alcami.
“Based on the information we have today, we believe that there were at least 15 different entries in Spain.”
Information collected in the study also confirmed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has a very slow mutation rate, much slower than the flu or HIV.
This means that precautions and safety measures are much more effective and easier to control.