Slovenia plans to check pre-epidemic samples for SARS-CoV-2

Ljubljana, 19 November – The National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food, which is part of the network of institutions monitoring flu and other respiratory infections, is planning to check samples from previous seasons to see whether the novel coronavirus may have circulated in Slovenia before the first infection was confirmed on 4 March this year.

Such testing has been planned since the spring wave of the epidemic, but all resources are currently focussed on diagnostic testing, the laboratory’s director Tjaša Žohar Čretnik told the STA.

As part of its regular monitoring of respiratory infections, the laboratory tests swabs from selected surgeries from around the country for the presence of various agents causing respiratory disease, including “old” coronaviruses.

“These samples from previous seasons could also be suitable for checking the potential presence of the novel coronavirus in our country even before the first case was formally confirmed. The checking of old samples has been planned since the spring wave but has not yet started,” Žohar Čretnik said.

But since infections in the spring were relatively scarce and spreading slowly, she believes it is very likely that the virus did not enter Slovenia already in 2019 and that there was no extensive undetected spread of the virus.

Earlier this week a study by Italian cancer research institute INT showed the novel coronavirus was present in Italy already in September 2019, a few months earlier than previously confirmed.

Žohar Čretnik explained that the antibodies in the INT’s serum samples from September were very high, at around 11% and had been taken from healthy people taking part in a study which was not related to respiratory infections.

She meanwhile warned that tests which detect antibodies require certain caution when interpreted because they can also detect infections with some other similar viruses.