You Might Have Had COVID If You Had This Symptom in December, Study Finds

New research shows this symptom became much more prevalent in December... Coincidence?

The idea that many COVID cases are asymptomatic has plenty of us holding on to the hope that we've already had and conquered the novel coronavirus. It's a convenient theory because, if true, you could have developed antibodies and convinced yourself that the virus is no match for you. Now, a new study is giving many Americans even more hope. Researchers at UCLA found evidence that the virus could have been circulating in the U.S. as early as late December, based on the rise of one common COVID symptom in particular at the time: a cough.

The new study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found a significant uptick in health clinic and hospital visits of patients reporting respiratory symptoms as early as the week of Dec. 22 and continuing through until February. Researchers examined data from the three hospitals and 180 clinics within the UCLA Health system and found that patients who sought medical care because of a cough exceeded the 95 percent prediction level throughout those months.

Man with cough symptom

Researchers compared the number of patients reporting a cough with the average of the five previous seasons. Per 1,000 visits, they found that there were two more cough-related visits than normal in outpatient offices. Meanwhile, emergency departments saw 19 more visits than usual and hospitalizations with acute respiratory failure saw 39 more visits than average. These numbers demonstrate that a statistically significant uptick in patients experiencing respiratory symptoms occurred from December through February in California.

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The most commonly accepted timeline is that COVID began in December in China, according to a January study in The Lancet, and traveled to the rest of the world the following month.

However, there are other studies that support the idea that the virus had been circulating long before that. A study in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents reports that there was a patient in France with COVID at the end of December, and another study published in Infection, Genetics, and Evolution notes that COVID began to circulate sometime between Oct. 6 and Dec. 11.

If COVID was around as early as Dec. 22, that completely alters the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) timeline. According to the CDC, the first COVID case was a resident of Oregon who had returned from traveling to Wuhan and reported symptoms to a clinic on Jan. 19, according to The New England Journal of Medicine.

Although it's nearly impossible to know for sure if you had COVID in December, this recent study makes a convincing argument that those with a cough at the end of 2019 could have been battling the virus early on in the pandemic. And for more symptoms patients can't shake, check out The 98 Longest Lasting COVID Symptoms You Need to Know About.

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