• The novel coronavirus could have reached Europe much earlier than previously thought 
  • Doctors tested 24 patient samples from December and January and received a positive match for COVID-19 
  • Doctors could very well have found France's "patient zero"

Doctors at a Paris hospital claim there's new evidence the novel coronavirus could have been in France much earlier than previously thought.

According to intensive care specialist Dr. Yves Cohen, he and his colleagues discovered potential proof that Europe was the first point of circulation rather than China.

"Covid-19 was already spreading in France in late December 2019, a month before the official first cases in the country," said Cohen and the team at Groupe Hospitalier Paris Seien in Saint-Denis in a study published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents.

The first official reports of COVID-19 in France were reported in late January by two individuals who had traveled to Wuhan, China. However, Dr. Cohen and his team had made the decision to check through earlier patient records in a bid to denote whether the virus had indeed come to the country in January or if it had been earlier.

In doing so, the team tested frozen samples from patients who had been admitted to the hospital with flu-like illnesses between Dec. 2 and Jan. 16, but did not receive flu diagnoses. They found one sample that was positive for coronavirus and tested it twice, just to be sure. However, the man had not traveled to China. He had last taken a trip to Algeria in August 2019.

"Identifying the first infected patient is of great epidemiological interest as it changes dramatically our knowledge regarding SARS-COV-2 and its spreading in the country. Moreover, the absence of a link with China and the lack of recent travel suggest that the disease was already spreading among the French population at the end of December, 2019," the doctors wrote in their study.

This is a significant finding, as Europe didn't find cases of coronavirus in its population until January, with Italy reporting its first two cases on Jan. 31.

"We called the patient," said Dr. Cohen. "He was sick for 15 days and infected his two children, but not his wife. One wonders if she has not been infected asymptomatically. We cannot go any further, but I think it is up to another institution to carry out the investigations."

These findings are somewhat in line with claims that coronavirus likely originated in November, according to reports from World Health Organization, who received information of the outbreak Dec. 31. However, reportedly, the virus originated in China around a month earlier, with researchers in ETH Zurich pinpointing it around the first half of November. In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the first case of novel coronavirus in the United States from an individual who had just returned home to Washington from Wuhan.

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Representational image of a doctor. valelopardo - Pixabay