Up to 40 deaths to be re-examined


When in early May New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed a young boy had died from a rare inflammatory disease believed to be linked to coronavirus, shockwaves were felt across the country.

Children had been thought immune to the worst ravages of COVID-19.

The five-year-old had perished from a condition known as paediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome with symptoms – which can include high fever and joint pain, as well as organ and heart failure – that mirrored those seen in an illness called Kawasaki disease.

But now new information points to the possiblity that children may have died from the disease far earlier than the case in New York.

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Up to 40 cases of people who passed away in California from as early as December are now being re-examined to see if coronavirus played a role in their deaths.

It adds to a growing body of evidence that scores of people worldwide may have died from coronavirus before China announced its first death from the virus on January 11.

One cluster of possible cases can be found in the rural Shasta County of northern California.

Dr Deirdre Amaro, the forensic pathologist for the county has told the Los Angeles Times she was concerned by the deaths of two children in January from respiratory illnesses.

In addition, another two children were sent from Shasta County to hospitals outside the county suffering with COVID or Kawasaki like symptoms.

“Since I’ve been here … we have never had sequential cases that are paediatric deaths,” she told the newspaper.

Another case under investigation is that of Jeremiah DeLap, a 39-year-old man who died Orange Country, south of Los Angeles.

On Friday January 3, while visiting his parents, he complained of feeling poorly and suspected food poisoning. On Monday, he was well enough to go for a walk. On Tuesday January 7, he fell ill again.

“He was having trouble breathing and I told him he should try and go to urgent care,” his mother Maribeth Cortez told the LA Times.

“He told me he’d talk to me later and he went and lay down.”

Hours later he was found dead in his bed, drowned by fluid in his lungs and still hot from a fever.

At this point, China was still several days away from announcing its first death from coronavirus.

With no COVID-19 tests processed on recently deceased in January in the US, a coroner ruled Mr DeLap had died from severe pneumonia.

It’s only now his death is being reviewed.

Health officials in Orange County are now also looking into other respiratory deaths from December to March including a homeless man and a young surfer who collapsed.

Today, these deaths would warrant a COVID-19 test.

Across the state, more than 40 deaths have now been flagged for re-examination to see if COVID-19 was present.

However, only the federal Centres for Disease Control can examine preserved tissue which is the sole way to check for coronavirus.

The CDC is under the pump responding to a virus that is continuing to sweep thorough the country. The organisation is taking weeks to provide these post-mortem results.

Of course, not all of the 40 Californians who died, including the Shasta County children, may have died from coronavirus.

But in recent weeks, information from around the world – even from China – has suggested COVID-19 was in circulation for longer than most health officials first thought.

It’s possible that rather than exploding into countries early in the year, the virus may have slowly built up in late 2019, going unnoticed as it worked its way through populations.

The US’s first death was originally thought to have been in late February but it’s now known a California woman died of COVID-19 earlier that month.

The first known case in France was originally diagnosed on January 24. However, an infection has now been discovered from late December.

A Paris man complained of a dry cough and trouble breathing just after Christmas. He hadn’t travelled but did work at a supermarket close to one of the city’s major airports where travellers often shopped.

A swab taken at the time was looked at again and his COVID-19 infection confirmed. Doctors said that would have meant he was infected anytime from mid-December onwards.

Samples of sewage in the Italian cities of Milan and Turin – two places hit hard by the pandemic – have also shown the virus that causes COVID-19 was present in December. Yet the first initial diagnoses were on 20 February.

If some of the tests from Shasta County, and California as a whole, come back positive, it will add further weight to the theory that long before China announced its first case of COVID-19 it was already rampaging around the world.

If only that had been known, scores of lives would likely have been saved.



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