It appears experts are unsure of where and when Covid-19 began spreading.  One  first case of someone in China suffering from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, can be traced back to November 17, according to government data seen by the South China Morning Post.  Other sources have  placed the time of the first infection in early to mid December.  Axios reports one of the first victims began feeling ill on December 10.

Uncertainty about the date and location of the origin of Covid-19 is not surprising because it is a novel coronavirus.  Like the rest of us, doctors are likely prone to analyzing cases consistent with what they know and are familiar with.  It doesn’t seem far fetched that the first cases of Covid-19 might be misidentified and treated as being caused by a familiar virus.

That is the essence of a theory espoused by Prof. Giuseppe Remuzzi, director of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan.  He is quoted in the March 22, 2020 South China Post:

A “strange pneumonia” was circulating in northern Italy as long ago as November, weeks before doctors were made aware of the novel coronavirus outbreak in China, one of the European country’s leading medical experts said this week.

“They [general practitioners] remember having seen very strange pneumonia, very severe, particularly in old people in December and even November,” Giuseppe Remuzzi, the director of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, said in an interview with the National Public Radio of the United States.

“This means that the virus was circulating, at least in [the northern region of] Lombardy and before we were aware of this outbreak occurring in China. 

Giuseppe Remuzzi

Italy has surpassed China to become the nation Covid-19 has hit hardest, and Lombardy, the region surrounding Milano, has suffered more than any region in Italy.  Statista Research Department  states that as of March 29, of 98,000 Covid-19 infections in Italy, 41,000 have occured in Lombardy.  For what it’s worth, Milano has the largest Chinese and Chinese-Italian population in Italy.

Remuzzi’s theory and Lombardy’s disproportionate share of Covid-19 cases caught my attention.  I’ve posted about my trip to Milano, Italy in Fall 2019.  I arrived in Milano on October 29 and left on November 5.  The trip was very enjoyable except for the weather, which was generally drizzly and cold.

Piazza del Duomo on a typical day in Milano during my visit.

Weatherwise, the best day by far was the day before departure.  The sights of Como and the lake were spectacular.

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I was sniffling and coughing most of the time in Italy.  The sniffles and cough persisted after I left.  Those symptoms are not unusual for me in cool, rainy weather when I spend a lot of time outdoors as I had on that trip.  What was completely unprecedented was what happened after I returned.

On Friday November 8, I was at home dealing with what seemed to be a run-of-the-mill, change-of-seasons cold.  That afternoon I experienced difficulty breathing.  I could breathe but if it got any worse, maybe not.  I’ve had asthma induced by exercise or allergies most of my life.  This was not like asthma I’ve experienced.  An inhaler was ineffective.  In the words of Astro, George Jetson’s dog, – Ruh Roh!

I drove to a nearby urgent care center.  Realizing I could barely talk, they saw me right away.  To make a long story short, the pulse oximeter, which registers oxygen levels in the blood, was fluctuating around 90.  Breathing medication through a nebulizer raised the pulse oximeter readings to a more acceptable level.

Suspecting a heart attack or maybe pneumonia, the physician assistant called an ambulance and paramedics.  Yikes!

Thanks to the nebulizer I was feeling much better than when I arrived.  Paramedics and getting wheeled out to an ambulance on a stretcher seemed like an overreaction.  Well-meaning overreactions like that are one reason healthcare is so expensive in the US.

Anyway, I drove myself to the hospital.  There tests and x-rays indicated no heart attack, pneumonia, or anything else serious they could identify.  Now, I don’t even recall what explanation they gave for the breathing problem.

I got some prescriptions and was released after about four hours.  I pretty much felt fine after that.

Having just posted about getting sick on December 23, 2019, on a flight from Shanghai, China, to Detroit, MI, some may think I’m sick all the time.  Other than mild allergies, I’m just the opposite actually.

Shortness of breath is one symptom of Covid-19, and I’ve never experienced anything like the situation on November 8.  Is it possible I could have had coronavirus?  Even if Covid-19 could have been circulating in Lombardy in early November, it seems implausible that I could have been infected with coronavirus because it supposedly takes about 10 days from infection to develop symptoms, negative x-rays for pneumonia, and a speedy recovery.

Maybe it was just coincidence.  Still, Giuseppe Remuzzi’s hypothesis had me wondering.  Doctors have a wealth of knowledge though they will be the first to admit they don’t know everything.  With Covid-19, that is stating the obvious.  I plan to take a test for antibodies as soon as one is available.