Why investigating U.S. EVALI outbreak important in COVID-19 origin-tracing?

2021-08-05 Ecns.cn Editor:Feng Shuang

(ECNS)- Amid global efforts in tracing the COVID-19 origins, the connection between the coronavirus and an outbreak of e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI) cases in the U.S. in August, 2019 has raised many concerns.

Despite calls for external investigation, the U.S. has kept its doors closed to foreign experts, incurring suspicions on the relationship between the closure of Fort Detrick in July 2019 and the lung disease.

At least three doubts need to be clarified.

Firstly, some of the so-called vaping-related patients share similarities in both CT image and symptoms with COVID-19 cases. This further raises questions: Does the vaping-related lung disease fall in a unique category? Or is it actually an undetected coronavirus-related disease?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set the diagnosis criteria for EVALI patients as those who used e-cigarettes or dabbled during the 90 days before symptom onset. This, in fact, refers to a very large e-cigarette user group without specific criteria to further narrow down results.

Secondly, after carefully examining the CT images of 142 EVALI cases mentioned in 60 related thesis, scientists found 16 EVALI patients who were likely to be infected by a "virus". Among them, five were diagnosed as “moderately likely". This gives room for fair speculation that COVID-19 cases may have already emerged at the time but were mistaken as EVALI patients.

Thirdly, all 16 EVALI patients lived in the U.S., of whom 12 showed symptoms and were diagnosed before the U.S. reported its first COVID-19 case in January 2020. The time of diagnosis for the remaining four cases remains unknown. So far, the U.S. hasn’t offered any explanation on the matter.

In fact, multinational research has already found clues suggesting COVID-19 may have been circulating in the world before the currently acknowledged time. The findings also imply that the pandemic outbreak started from multiple origins in multiple places.

While requesting other countries to be cooperative, the U.S. has shut the door to a global investigation of its own data. The only way for it to clear itself is to open to investigation by the international community.

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