Has Coronavirus been in the UK for longer than we think?

I’m wondering whether coronavirus, or COVID-19, has been in the UK for months already. There’s three things that make me wonder about that.

The first is that there were a lot of reports about people who had contracted the disease in the UK, but the doctors couldn’t work out where they had got it from, because they hadn’t been in contact with anyone who had it.

The second thing is that around my way there was a really nasty virus going around this winter. Quite a few people got it, including kids at the local schools. It wasn’t flu, but it wasn’t a cold either. Fever, extreme tiredness and a cough were the symptoms. It was pretty bad, a lot of kids had to take a whole week off school. No-one could remember a virus like that for a long time.

The third thing is that most diseases turn out to have been around a lot longer than people, even doctors and researchers, initially realised. AIDS/HIV is a prime example. It turns out that people had been dying from HIV infection since the late 1950s, and possibly also as far back as the 1920s. The 1980s was when it really took hold in the USA, and when medical researchers identified it, but that’s not when it first appeared.

So COVID-19 may have been in the UK for quite a while before now, but we didn’t realise.

To be clear, I’m not saying this is the case, just that’s it’s a possibility worth exploring. Of course there may be alternative explanations for why people caught the disease without us knowing how (for example, exposure to a carrier who didn’t develop symptoms), and the bad virus that was going around this winter may be something completely different. But we should try to work out whether it has been around earlier than we thought.

I was talking to a vet friend last night, who also wondered about this, and she says that it should be possible to detect whether someone has already had COVID-19 and got over it by testing for the antibodies in their blood.

Update: I do think it’s unlikely that what went around here in winter was COVID-19. I’m saying this more in hope, really, hope that us folks around my way have already been through it, and will have the antibodies to deal with should it come back.

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43 thoughts on “Has Coronavirus been in the UK for longer than we think?

  1. I suspect you are right about the virus having been around for a long time. What is certainly new is the ability to test for this specific virus — which makes one wonder if we are currently seeing an exponential increase in infection or an exponential increase in testing?

    I don’t know what the figures are for the UK. In the US this season, 20,000 human being have died already from flu — and about 20 from this new virus. The Man from Mars would have great difficulty understanding why countries which barely notice the first start panicking about the second.

    The explanation for Western panic is perhaps that China (where 25,000 people die every day) got excited when about the deaths of about 3,000 people over a period of 2 months were linked to this virus. Because China over-reacted, politicians and bureaucrats in the West feel they have to over-react too.

    The interesting question is — Why did the Chinese government react so strongly to this outbreak? There are a variety of tentative explanations floating about.

    Maybe the Chinese government really did think that this disease would be much more serious than we now know (99.8% of passengers & crew on the mishandled Diamond Princess cruise ship have survived)? Or maybe the Chinese government was concerned about “face”, proving to the West that it takes disease outbreaks seriously? Or maybe the Chinese leaders are deliberately trying to trigger a recession in the West, as part of a longer-term plan for world domination?

    Time will tell! And despite this virus, the overwhelming majority of us will be around to see the outcome.

  2. “testing for the antibodies”: I saw something yesterday that said that, alas, there are as yet no tests for the antibodies.

    I’ve had a cold that has run on from some time in January: it is only now moderating. No cough, no fever, no aching, but endless sneezing and runny nose. Sounds to me to be just an unusually prolonged common cold. But who knows?

    If the virus has been around in the West for a few months why is it only now slaughtering its way through an old folks home in Washington? Our is that a routine event in winter anyway?

    “In the US this season, 20,000 human being have died already from flu”: these figures are estimates/guesses based on mathematical modelling. They may be intelligent and honest guesses but they are not the result of – for instance – testing for antibodies.

  3. No tests for antibodies yet, but at some stage?

    COVID-19 is not supposed to involve runny noses and sneezing very much, so you probably don’t have it.

    >If the virus has been around in the West for a few months why is it only now slaughtering its way through an old folks home in Washington?

    There are reports that it has mutated and got worse, so that could be it. Or maybe it hasn’t been around for months at all.

  4. “these figures are estimates/guesses based on mathematical modelling.”

    Almost everyone dies for the same reason — our hearts stop beating. The uncertainty arises when we try to analyze what causes the heart to stop beating. Sometimes it is easy — chest crushed when an 18-wheeler runs over the deceased. At other times, it gets more complicated — AIDS virus compromises the immune system; person gets pneumonia; oxygen saturation in blood drops to a critical level; heart stops. There is room for debate about what gets listed as the cause of death.

    The certain part is that every day about 25,000 hearts stop beating in China while about 7,800 hearts stop beating in the US — and very few of those can be ascribed to the coronavirus.

  5. Your first para, GL, is effectively identical to one I wrote on another blog. I then asked a medic about how cause of death is established but got no reply.

    I have a friend who is a retired epidemiologist. He warned me about Italian “cause of death” attributions. According to Italian law at the time, he found that COD could be registered by a doctor, or a nurse, or the deceased’s family. This discovery helped explain some anomalies in his figures
    for the study he was then working on.

  6. Referring to the original article, I to was wondering if this Corona virus has been around longer than it is thought in UK.
    I was working in Kuwait for a long time and returned to UK just before Halloween in October.
    Early November I started to get sick. I have had pneumonia a few times in my life and bronchitis and chest infections every winter.
    This pneumonia was different.
    Normally, it all starts where my ears get itchy and my throat gets sore. This time, a burning temperature come from nowhere. The cough was terrible and went on for a few weeks. Seemed as though I had every symptom it describes.
    I am hoping I have had the Corona virus already as I am at this moment cooped up and afraid of catching it because of my medical history, as stated there is no way of knowing without a test.
    On the other hand, my daughter lives with me and didn’t catch it and also because of my history with chest infections, if it was Corona, surely it would have killed me.
    Perhaps people with underlying health problems can survive it if they have limited exposure to it. Or perhaps the virus was in a earlier stage of it’s own development at that time, November 2019.
    I am guessing.
    But we would be the ideal candidates to test on I think

  7. January 2019 I had pneumonia, water on the lungs, struggled to breath and the strangest fever. I was so worried cos breathing was almost impossible and a persistent cough. I honestly thought I was going to have to call 999. In the end I had to get antibiotics – something weird was going on. I’ve since had a strange flu and a cold since then. I may have had Covid -19

  8. My partner and I came back from Mexico in mid-November 2019 with a virus that had the same symptoms as coronavirus. There were a lot of Chinese tourists there so they could have taken the same virus home. I haven’t seem any reports mentioning Mexico but unless we could be tested for antibodies there is no way of knowing whether it was coronavirus.

  9. I too had a strange flu that consisted of fluid on the lungs, a dry cough, dry mouth, fever and extreme tiredness. It was coming up to Christmas. My chest made the strangest noises and had to sleep upright. I have never had anything like it before. I had the flu jab in November so was quite shocked that I would get so ill. The children in my class were ok. Only two had a bad cough and they were the children of healthcare workers.
    Members of my family that were older had it too, some lasted for weeks and had to have two lot’s of antibiotics as it wouldn’t go.
    I am unsure what it was but all symptoms were the same as Cov 19. Could there have been an early version of what we have today? If so would we have anti-bodies? It would be nice to have testing available asap so that we can get back to normal.

  10. My Daughter who is 49 and works in a local school had a strange flu type of illness over Christmas . She already had asthma , then developed breathing difficulties,high temperature and extreme lethargy which led my Son in Law to call 111 who suggested she should go to their local hospital who said she should go home and stay there , take paracetamol and stay warm. So were the NHS (Government) aware of this potential outbreak long before it was made public.

  11. I had all the symptoms of th Cov 19 virus just before christmas. i was so so ill. i honestly thought I was going to die, i dont know what my temperature was, i dont have a thermometr all i know is that i could not get warm, i was wrapped in two quilts with a dressing gown on and all I wanted to was sleep and friend also had it and she ended up on a ventilator with her oxygen levels very low,
    I am convinced that this was the corona virus

  12. Hi Alison I to had the virus in November had to go to hospital , i was told that if it worsened in 3 day i would be hospitalized , it took 3 weeks for me to get something like better .

  13. I personally know of 4 people in England who have had coronavirus symptoms over last Christmas and into the new year, long before it was meant to be over here. My son suddenly developed a temperature, a cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing. He was rushed in to A & E, diagnosed with a throat infection, given antibiotics and quickly recovered. His partner soon after developed similar symptoms and was diagnosed with a chest infection, recovered with antibiotics. A friend went to a Christmas wedding, shortly after most of the guests went down with similar illnesses, all treated and recovered with antibiotics. Was this coronavirus, appreciate antibiotics only work on infections, not viruses but have they been tried on this?

  14. It could be, but maybe not. We just don’t know, and there’s no point me (a non-doctor) speculating about individual cases. Covid-19 can be accompanied by a bacteria which causes problems. But then it could also be flu accompanied by bacteria as well. Or just a bacterium going around by itself.

  15. Both myself and my entire family came down with a 4-5 week virus after travelling to London at Christmas. My daughter with a congenital heart defect -had lowering blood count and admitted to hospital. I was bed bound for 3 days and tested for glandular fever as displayed all symptoms. I had fever and still have the persisitant cough from January. More testing is needed around those that were ill at this time…it may explain a lot?

  16. I had a virus in December 2019, started around 16th 17th took till beginning of January when starting to fade. I had fever felt awful, cough was terrible ,felt like my head was thumbing every time i coughed. water gurgling on my lungs started being sick towards the end of virus. while i had it i could hardly eat. I live in Birmingham area.

  17. I have a terrible virus February 2019 was off work for 2 weeks constant coughing which I too struggled to breath. It was very scary and I didn’t sleep upright for over a month as I coughed so much bruised my ribs. Had a fever and was so tired due to lack of sleep from coughing. Had two lots of antibotics which didn’t work and I was given an inhaler to help with my breathing.

  18. My husband and I both in our 50s came down with a flu like bug at Christmas 2019. Both never felt so ill, constant terrible cough, aching all over, fever and no appetite, I also remember having a very dry mouth. Totally exhausted but unable to sleep. Took over 3 weeks to begin to feel slightly well. I have been wondering for sometime and discussing with others whether we have had the virus. We are from Kent.

  19. I had a terrible virus in the second week of December 2019. It could be described as a flu virus but as others have mentioned it was different to any flu I have previously had. I am also an asthmatic which is controlled by the use of inhalers but in the passed when it was poorly controlled my chest would be wheezy but with the virus in Dec I was distinctly breathless in a way I have never been before. I also had a dry cough so much so I lost of my voice for over a week and also suffered chest discomfort. I feel I am only now really getting over this. I am from Essex and had not travelled abroad in the weeks prior to contracting the virus. I am a firm believer it has been around since the latter part of last year and sure it would help matter if this could be proved.

  20. Hi, I am a private hire taxi driver who’s main job is airports to Southampton. I went down with a very bad virus infection just after xmas 2019. I had all the symptoms of covid, not a fever though. A bad cough that ripped through me, a friend of mine had the same, we finally shrugged it of late Jan/early Feb. Why cant we be tested to see if we had this nasty virus, surely this would make sense in order to see what the infectious rates are and to prove that reporting of this virus is well off the mark.

  21. Reading the comments above is just like a replay of what I went through mid Jan. I never have a cough ever, but I could not shift this for three weeks. Plus fever plus a headache for three days.Went to the doctor and told him I have the flu but, its not like flu! he said it must be gastro enteritis. My conclusion is that it was here long before they say. We will find out soon when we are all tested!Good luck all. Surrey man

  22. My niece living in spain flew directly to Scotland to visit mother and fatherinlaw for Christmass , soon fell in and ended up hospitalised 2 weeks with pleurisy, could not fly back for several weeks and only just fully recoverd
    On boxing day my sisterinlaw with no contact with my niece and in south england fell ill when paramedics came one of the first questions was had she been to the far east recently, strange question? she was hospitalised for 2 weeks with, yes, Pluricy and had to go back once discharged to have her lungs drained as meddecine could not clear them.

    when speaking to a relative, they mentioned that a company I knew of, had been approached before Christmas by a government body? to see if they were in a position to carry out a big contract that may come up early this year, they are now working in the nightingale hospital in London docklands.

    Spoke to many people other Christmas who had and knew friends that had lost older relatievs , sesonal flu could be, what type?

    We were warned last year to expect a bad seasonal flu an we were constantly advised to get our flu jabs, but my thinking is that it was not the strain they were expecting and when the Chinese doctor who first found this new virus covid 19 and unfortunately died of it last year was ignored. But when Geni was out of the bottle and in this age of travel world wide the authorities knew they had a problem no cure. So what to do? You can not tell mi in this day and age with ears on the ground, contacts etc, other countries did not find out, so what to do? Just an idea , keep quite, wait and see and stem the period of any panic, let people gradualy get used to the reality of what is about to happen in a controlled way as possible

  23. Some people may present with abdominal pain before respiratory symptoms — and that’s not something health officials are screening for: This coronavirus is still very new, and we don’t know the entire spectrum of illness yet, but we’re learning the disease may sometimes surface in surprising ways. Though it’s a respiratory infection, a recent article found that people can present in the hospital with abdominal symptoms such as discomfort first. This means “we may not be detecting cases that do not present in the classic way with fever and respiratory symptoms,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

  24. Same here.
    Living around Glasgow.
    Late September early Oct had temp for 2 days and dry cough which went loose after about a month but coughing itself lasted until recently. Yes about 6 months.
    Baby soon got croup and needed steroids for his breathing.
    4 Yr old got pneumonia and we had to go to hospital.
    Wife had temp but nothing else really.

    I had 3 courses of antibiotics. In case it was that.
    After some weeks of coughing till I was exhausted, I had chest xray which confirmed no infection so just bickkered it out.

    Holidayed in Barcelona area in October school break, with antibiotics, no wine!!!

    If that wasn’t Covid-19, it was its first cousin we should also be wary of.

    Incidentally, for ppl getting that cough before Christmas, the docs were saying to me patients that they shouldn’t expect it to clear for 3 months!

  25. My wife and I had a terrible cough after for about 2 months right after Christmas. We went to visit our niece in Maryland who just came back from the epicenter in Italy. We met for Christmas and came home the next day. For nearly 2 months we both had a hacking but productive cough (after an initial day or two of feeling feverish and like we were coming down with a cold) that we did everything right to try to get rid of including good quality C, Zinc, rest, nutrition etc. Horrible cough that was very productive however it lasted so long. We’ve had the flu and bronchitis before and this behaved nothing like either of them. The girl by the way was asymptomatic but her father and brother ALSO came down with terrible hacking coughs for a few months as well. We think we had it due to the Italy connection.

  26. I was very unwell in February 2020 for 5 days. Terrible dry cough l, couldn’t get out of bed at that time, no energy and couldn’t lift my head off the pillow. Headaches, cold and shaking and such tiredness also the cough went from being dry to coughing up mucus, also 1 was very breathless. I coughed so much I felt I done something some damage inside my rib cage. I am still not feeling great and got tightness still in my chest. .I did see my doctor in the end and she gave me something for cough. I do believe I had Cornavirus but I recovered from it but not fully got some of the symptoms. Ie tiredness. Only way to find out is by being tested.

  27. I was very unwell in February 2020 for 5 days. Terrible dry cough l, couldn’t get out of bed at that time, no energy and couldn’t lift my head off the pillow. Headaches, cold and shaking and such tiredness also the cough went from being dry to coughing up mucus, also 1 was very breathless. I coughed so much I felt I done something some damage inside my rib cage. I am still not feeling great and got tightness still in my chest. .I did see my doctor in the end and she gave me something for cough. I do believe I had Cornavirus but I recovered from it but not fully got some of the symptoms. Ie tiredness. Only way to find out is by being tested.

  28. Had tight upper chest, not really a cough (but lots of throat clearing) and no temperature – from 3rd Jan 20 through to mid Feb 20. I saw a Nurse Practitioner at GP practice on 30/01/20 who said “not a chest infection and oxygen sats fine but probably some virus that might take a few weeks yet to clear” Was it covid19?? Like many, I would like to know now. ( am in my mid sixties)

  29. I live in the USA but visited my daughter in London for 3 weeks in October and caught a very bad virus which affected my stomach, temperature, lack of sense of taste and smell and very weak..that went on for 5-6 days then had a quiet lull and then the chest thing hit me with thick green mucus and never-ending cough…it took me months to get over it…and I sat next to an oriental man on the flight from Newark to Heathrow…my grandson was sick too…it has all the hallmarks of Covid19???? anne

  30. My partner and I had all Covid19 symptoms in beginning of January in UK and was thinking exactly the same thing.. Shortness of breath, crackling in chest, consistent dry cough deep in the lungs, turning chronic sometimes, partner was told by his GP that it was a type of walking pneumonia and I was told by mine that I had a chest infection . The interesting thing was it was nothing like a normal cold it didn’t have the regular nose blowing and phlegm build up .. and sadly my mum died of a horrific pneumonia where she was burning up in September and they just couldn’t help her as she just couldn’t produce the white cells to stop her body destroying herself …

  31. I know of several people in North America who were symptomatic of a ‘strange’ ‘flu/pneumonia in January, December and even November. But the strangest was a friend 52 years old, not a traveller but living in a heavily Chinese neighbourhood in North Toronto. He became ill with ‘flu which deteriorated into pneumonia and was taken to hospital by ambulance. He ended up on a ventilator. His heart stopped and was restarted twice. He was isolated and treated with very expensive pills sounding suspiciously like AIDS treatment which I know have been used in covid treatment. Doctors told him it was a strange unknown ‘flu virus. This was in March 2019. So yes, this thing has been coming for a while, a lot longer than the media know-it-all’s would have you believe. Certainly I was aware of a virus by November.

  32. Yeah I’m positive it’s been around longer, I had what I thought was a cold in nov. Really bad dry non productive cough (though colds usually go into my chest) after a week of mild symptoms it progresses into full blown fever for 5 days, I was gubbed by it. Zero appetite as well and the cough was worse, I couldn’t take a deep breath without coughing fits. Even after the fever broke it was 2 days before I could even eat. As soon as I started eating again I then had a night of cramps and the runs. Even after this I was still generally weak and run down for about a week later and the cough persisted for a couple of weeks after but became productive (though like I said I’m prone to coughs when I get the cold) It was defo something totally different from the cold or flu it took me a fair while to get back to normal. Even my mum was saying that a few people in her village had been hospitalised with a bad flu around the same time.

    I’m in Scotland btw…

  33. I’m in Portsmouth and myself and my work colleagues were hit by a virus that every single one of us has since described as “the worst we have ever felt in our lives”. It spread round the workplace like nothing before. Usually one or two of us get ill with a bug and the majority of us get off more lightly but this spread to 12/14 of us and to all of our families and then their families work colleagues!. God knows how many people then caught it off them. All of us had a fever and a dry cough and strangely (and this is the bit that made me google – has this been in the UK before March), the two asthmatics both described, at their worst point in the illness, feeling like someone was stamping on their chests as they struggled to breathe. This was very early Feb. We all experienced it slightly differently, the intensity of the fever and the cough was the same it seems for all of us, but how long it lasted differed and some of us got sore throats, one girl could literally not speak for days and another was physically sick and another had a runny nose. The cough lasted from 5 days to 3 weeks, and none of us went back to feeling fine straight away, it sort of lingered for weeks in an underlying just don’t feel right sort of way. The thing that was vastly different to normal was that we all got ill, even those of us who don’t usually ever get ill got ill, that has never happened before in the 10 years we have worked together. It also just felt different, fresh and potent. And we just kept saying to each other “this just doesn’t feel like normal flu, I have honestly never felt this ill in my life.” It’s just too much of a coincidence for me!

  34. Haha….had to double check I hadn’t posted-this exactly the same but in December! I told my daughter I thought I’d broken a rib or pulled a muscle in my rib cage with coughing. No fever and no sore throat but a sensation that I had a hair or small sharp obstruction which I put down as the cause of the cough. Then I got congestion in my lungs! I’m a smoker and the last thing I wanted was a cigarette but it was the only thing that would loosen the gunk in my lungs. The cough has nearly cleared and the sore ribs I have noticed have cleared over the last couple of days so 4 months. Strangely just before this started my twin grandchildren 18 months both went to the doctors with 40 degree temps-doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with either of them and put it down to a virus which was going round! The fevers cleared after 3-4 days and treated with paracetamol oh also no loss of taste or smell but totally went off coffee-last time I didn’t want coffee was 30 years ago when I was pregnant!

  35. I too had a slight temperature for a few days last September/October, but a dry cough that developed into a chesty cough and lasted for about 3 months. I never get a chesty cough. I had no energy at all and had to sleep sitting up and was having strange wheezy noises coming from my chest. I’ve never had anything like this since I had flu and bronchitis about 40 years ago after having a flu injection. My GP did not give me antibiotics but told me that patients were reporting that the cough went on for weeks.

  36. I also had something similar,September October, fever, tired, dry cough for aprox 3 month after. My wife had a fever and tired, my youngest child had a fever. Our Gp said the whole of the west coast seemed to be reporting to have something similar. Some children who had other medical issues had been hospitalised and a few elderly had been also with something that they said was similar to pneumonia. They thought it was viral but were certain it was not the flue.
    Scottish Highlands area

  37. I was in Vegas end of Sept 2019 for my 50th, on the last day of our trip we walked past/through a large group of Chinese holiday makers in the entrance of the hotel we were staying at. On getting home my wife became ill back end of Oct 2019 and I became ill about the Middle of Nov 2019. WOW was I ill…I suffer from Asthma and am Type 2 Diabetic – had a dry cough for about 8+ weeks, I had to sleep sitting up as when I lied down I would start coughing uncontrollably, this carried on for weeks, went the Doc’s for Antibiotics don’t know if they worked?
    Had X-ray on my lungs which showed I had fluid on the right side of my Asthmas was the worsted I have ever had, and I have never had fluid on my lungs before . I self-Isolated from Christmas missing parties and birthday’s and my Nephews new born due to being ill and didn’t want to pass anything on to my parents as are both in there 70’s and my in-laws have some health issue’s to.

    So I really believe that I have had this Virus?

    Merseyside area

  38. I had a sore throat and high temperature in late December and then developed a dreadful cough. Could not lie down at night had to sit in the lounge. Nothing I took would stop me coughing except cold lasted for five weeks and I was unable to go anywhere due to the continual cough. I live in South Bucks and this cough went around locally here before and after Christmas and everyone I know says I probably had the corona virus. Never had a cough like it before.

  39. We live in Cumbria near the Lake District where thousands of tourists visit. We also have family in the U.S.

    In September 2019, my husband awoke one morning – violently shivering and running a high temp. The next day his side ached. He visited his G.P. who noted the high fever and shivering – called ‘rigouring.’ He said it may be pneumonia. This fast-thinking doctor called ahead to A&E where he was quickly admitted into hospital. The side ache turned out to be a virulent infection of his lungs. He is never sick and usually very healthy. This just came out of the blue!

    He was put on an I.V. and his fever spiked higher. His oxygen levels were low at 91% so they put him on oxygen.He struggled to breathe. And couldn’t talk. The nurse told me that he needed to ‘turn the corner’ the next day in order to avoid being put on a ventilator. We prayed together. The next day, his oxygen came up to 98%. He narrowly avoided ventilation; however they couldn’t pin down what type of virus or bacteria it was that was making him so sick. Even with oxygen, antibiotics and physio-he still was in hospital for over a week with this ‘mystery’ illness. The fever kept spiking and wouldn’t go away.

    Talking to his sister in the U.S., she had also been severely ill with a very unusual respiratory flu. Hers came later around Christmas 2019 and she said alot of people were dying from it in the U.S. She wondered if it was the corona virus masquerading as the flu -but they hadn’t been testing for it.

    Miraculously, my husband survived. We are older and very thankful to be alive. Now we are just waiting for the U.K. antibody tests to come out to see if this was COVID-19.

  40. I too hard these symptoms in December. The problem with this theory is that if Covid 19 was around in the Uk in late 2019, then why weren’t we seeing many more people in intensive care at that time.

  41. Convinced my son had it late October 2019 in South Wales. Hospital ward was full of kids with same symptoms, cough, breathing difficulties.
    Spoke to neighbour and her son was admitted fortnight before and says whole ward full of kids with same symptoms then too.
    My son was given steroids and ventolin. Took weeks to properly recover. He still needs ventolin sometimes

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