France: Covid-19 patient found in December, doctors say

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Doctors at a Paris hospital say they have found evidence that a patient admitted in December was infected with Covid-19. If verified, this finding would show that the virus was already circulating in Europe at that time – long before the diagnosis of the first known cases in France or Italy.

“Covid-19 was already spreading in France at the end of December 2019, a month before the first official cases in the country”, writes the team from the Paris Seine Hospital Group in Saint-Denis in a study published Sunday in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents.

Critical care specialist Dr. Yves Cohen and his colleagues at the hospital wrote that they had decided to check the records of previous patients, in case the virus spreads without being detected.

American researchers have also started to find evidence that the virus was infect and kill people earlier than the first cases reported in the country.

The French team examined people admitted to hospital for flu-like illness between December 2 and January 16 who were ultimately not diagnosed with influenza. They tested frozen samples from these patients for coronavirus.

“A positive sample was taken from a 42 year old man born in Algeria, who lived in France for many years and worked as a fishmonger”, the team wrote. “His last trip took place in Algeria in August 2019.”

The man had not been to China and one of his children was also ill, the team reported.

“The identification of the first infected patient is of great epidemiological interest because it considerably modifies our knowledge concerning SARS-COV-2 and its spread in the country. In addition, the lack of link with China and the lack of recent trips suggest that the disease was already spreading among the French population at the end of December 2019, “they wrote.

Europe only started reporting coronavirus cases in January. In Italy, the European country hardest hit by the virus, the first two cases were reported on January 31, among two Chinese tourists in Rome. The first known community transmission was recorded at the end of February in Codogno, in northern Italy.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the publication date of the online study.


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