PARIS — Weeks earlier than Chinese language authorities acknowledged that the coronavirus might be transmitted by people, and practically a month earlier than the primary formally recorded instances in Europe, a 42-year-old fishmonger confirmed up at a hospital in suburban Paris coughing, feverish and having hassle respiratory. It was Dec. 27.
Now medical doctors in France say that the December affected person could have been the earliest identified coronavirus case in Europe.
If confirmed, the case of the fishmonger, Amirouche Hammar, would imply the lethal virus made an look on the continent lengthy earlier than officers there started tackling it. Such a discovery would convey an odd new wrinkle to the story of the virus in Europe, one which has the potential of blowing up the beforehand established chronology.
The French authorities says it’s wanting on the report. The medical doctors who made the discovering stated they’re assured in it, and that they examined the samples twice to keep away from false positives. However they acknowledged that they might not utterly rule out that chance.
The medical doctors additionally cautioned that with out additional evaluation of the pattern, it was unclear whether or not the person had handed the virus on to anybody else, or whether or not his case was tied in any strategy to the epidemic that arrived later.
But when the timeline of when the virus appeared in Europe does change, the official efforts to fight the contagion would end up to not have been simply too late, however hopelessly too late.
By the point the primary critical measures have been put in place — the French authorities didn’t order a lockdown till March 16 — the virus could have already appeared three months earlier, in keeping with a examine of the brand new case that has been peer-reviewed and accepted for formal publication within the Worldwide Journal of Antimicrobial Brokers.
That in flip would assist clarify the quickly growing disaster that has since unfurled in France and Europe. There have been hundreds of instances, hospitalizations and deaths, in numbers that solely in latest weeks have begun to abate considerably, on account of the federal government’s inflexible confinement measures.
France alone has recorded over 25,000 coronavirus deaths.
“If confirmed, what this case does spotlight is the velocity at which an an infection beginning in a seemingly distant a part of the world, can rapidly seed infections elsewhere,” stated Prof. Rowland Kao, the Sir Timothy O’Shea Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Information Science on the College of Edinburgh, in an interview for Britain’s Science Media Centre.
“Why is that this essential?” he added. “It implies that the lead time we’ve got for evaluation and decision-making will be very brief.”
The journal publishing the report concerning the case has had a brush with controversy over the coronavirus, strolling again a examine it revealed about therapies for the virus. And far about this obvious first case stays a thriller.
However the authors of the paper, medical doctors on the Avicenne Hospital within the Paris suburb of Bobigny, amongst others, declare flatly: Their examine is of a “affected person contaminated with Covid-19 one month earlier than the primary reported instances in our nation” whose “lack of latest journey means that the illness was already spreading among the many French inhabitants on the finish of December 2019.”
French authorities declared the primary official instances of coronavirus within the nation — three individuals who had all lately been in China — on Jan. 24. That was 4 days after China for the primary time confirmed human-to-human transmission.
The medical doctors retested samples from a person who had suffered from pneumonia. They discovered the coronavirus.
“There’s little doubt for us,” stated Dr. Yves Cohen, head of intensive care on the Avicenne and Jean Verdier hospitals, within the northern suburbs of Paris, and one of many authors of the examine, in a phone interview Tuesday. “It was already there in December.”
What shouldn’t be clear is how the affected person, Mr. Hammar, received it. Other than a visit to Algeria final summer time, he had not traveled. His spouse, nevertheless, briefly exhibited a number of the signs — coughing, principally — of the coronavirus, Dr. Cohen stated.
“We’ve received some theories,” he stated. “His spouse had slightly cough.”
Mr. Hammar’s spouse, Fatiha, who works in a grocery store close to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, advised French tv this week that she serves prospects who come instantly from the airport, “with their suitcases,” she stated.
There have been direct flights between that airport and the one in Wuhan, China, earlier than borders have been closed.
Specialists warned that the case couldn’t be instantly tied to France’s present outbreak with no genomic analysis.
“One really has to make a distinction between the epidemic wave and isolated cases,” Samuel Alizon, an infectious diseases and epidemics specialist at the CNRS, France’s national public research organization, said in a telephone interview.
“It is quite possible,” he explained, “that there were isolated cases that led to transmission chains that died down.”
Mr. Alizon said it was common for epidemics imported from abroad into a given country to undergo several false starts, with transmission chains that died down on their own before one of the imported cases led to an actual epidemic.
“So the question is more: How many importation events did it take to launch the epidemic wave?” he said.
The first case outside of China was reported in Thailand on Jan. 13. However specialists have lengthy suspected that the coronavirus could have unfold internationally earlier than the primary formally reported instances.
The detection of the potential new case in France follows related situations in the US, the place deaths from the virus have been recognized weeks sooner than first reported, and a mannequin steered that silent outbreaks had spread for weeks before detection.
The French government has said very little about the case so far.
France’s health ministry said on Tuesday that authorities were in contact with scientists and experts from other countries on the timeline of the spread of the virus, and that they would carry out further investigations “if they appear necessary.”
“We are in permanent contact with our European and Chinese counterparts on the issue, in order to better understand the spread of the virus at the global level,” the ministry said.
Dr. Olivier Bouchaud, an infectious disease specialist at the same hospital as Dr. Cohen, told the LCI news channel on Tuesday that it was common to keep frozen samples from patients with lung infections for later testing.
“It isn’t very surprising,” Dr. Bouchaud said of the Dec. 27 positive case, noting that in China the virus also circulated under the radar for weeks before the first official cases were detected.
Frédéric Keck, a biosecurity expert at CNRS, said, “If Covid existed in November” — which some reports suggest was the case — “it is certainly possible that it was here in December.”
“We never really know when an epidemic starts,” Mr. Keck said.
Mr. Hammar, who lives in Bobigny, a northern suburb of Paris, said in an interview with BFM TV that he drove himself to the emergency ward at 5 a.m. on Dec. 27 after a number of days of coughing, problem respiratory and chest pains.
Mr. Hammar, who has a historical past of bronchial asthma and diabetes, was identified with a pulmonary an infection however rapidly recovered and was discharged two days later.
“I used to be stunned, given the devastation that the sickness is inflicting,” Mr. Hammar stated of studying, months later, that he had been examined constructive for Covid-19.
Benjamin Mueller contributed reporting from London.