Two French doctors said Tuesday the coronavirus was in Europe a month earlier than originally believed. Acting on a hunch, they decided to take another look at a number of patients who were treated in intensive care for pneumonia in December and January.
They ran new tests on old swabs taken from patients in the Paris region. One of them, from a man living in a suburb of the French capital, came back positive for COVID-19. The 43-year-old man was admitted to the hospital on December 27, four weeks before the first three cases in Europe were confirmed.
The French health minister announced on January 24 what was believed to be the first three cases, all whom had been in Wuhan, China: A couple who had been vacationing in China and a man who was there on business. They had all first shown symptoms mid-January, while still in China, and tested positive for the new coronavirus upon return to France.
The man who was treated in December for pneumonia told French broadcaster BFMTV that to his knowledge, he had not been to China and was not in contact with anyone who had been there. The only explanation that he could think of was that his wife, who tested negative, works in a supermarket near Charles de Gaulle Airport, where foreign tourists often shop on arrival in France.
He told French TV that he is now showing no symptoms of the coronavirus.
The World Health Organization said that it is "not surprising" that this case has emerged. "It's also possible there are more early cases to be found," WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a U.N. briefing in Geneva. He encouraged other countries to check records for cases in late 2019, saying this would give the world a "new and clearer picture" of the outbreak.
The two French specialists who made the discovery, Professor Yves Cohen and Dr Jean-Ralph Zahar, will publish their findings later this week in the International Journal Of Antimicrobial Agents.