UH researchers discover way to see how long COVID-19 has been in our area

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CLEVELLAND (WJW) — The FOX 8 I-TEAM has uncovered a local medical breakthrough that could solve one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak.

Researchers at University Hospitals believe their new finding could help reveal how long the disease has been in our area, maybe much longer than anyone thought.

Dr. Hannah Gilmore helped develop a way to look back at people who died months ago and longer. A way to figure out now if those people had COVID-19 well before they died. The new technique involves using tissue samples from autopsies.

It could reveal if COVID-19 was around before anyone started talking about it, and it could help teach doctors how to slow the spread. Doctors also believe it could help them identify certain strains of the disease and where those strains came from before they appeared in NE Ohio.

“So what this technique allows us to do is really go back,” said Dr. Gilmore. “And understand how COVID-19 came into our community. What the prevalence is. We can help identify how to move forward.”

*Read more investigative stories from the I-TEAM, here.*

We wondered how will researchers use the new technique developed here at University Hospitals? How will they decide which cases to go back and check? They can now go back to cases when people died and autopsies were done, and those people had conditions or symptoms common in COVID-19 patients.

“I would not be surprised if we had cases earlier in the year before we ever knew COVID had come to Ohio,” she said.

Irene Culetsu wonders. Her husband died from COVID-19. Her entire family had it.

“If we had been tested earlier, if we had known earlier, we could’ve gone to the ER or to take some kind of precaution so my husband wouldn’t have died,” she said.

Researchers at University Hospitals recently published a paper on the groundbreaking finding. They expect other hospitals and doctors to pick up on this.

People like Irene are anxious to find out whatever they can about COVID-19.

“I think that people had it before. We just didn’t know what it was,” she said.

*Watch our report below on Gov. DeWine opening up testing to entire state.*


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