A French hospital that retested old pneumonia samples found that it treated a man with COVID-19 on December 27, almost a month before the French government confirmed its first cases.
Yves Cohen, head of resuscitation at the Avicenne hospitals and Jean Verdier in the northern suburbs of Paris, told BFM TV that scientists had re-tested samples from 24 patients treated in December and January who were negative for flu.
"Of the 24, we had one who was positive for COVID-19 on December 27," he told the news channel on Sunday.
The samples were all initially collected to detect the flu using PCR tests, the same genetic screening technique that can also be used to detect the presence of the new coronavirus in patients who were infected at the time of sampling.
Each sample was retested several times to ensure that there were no errors, he added. Neither Cohen nor his team were immediately available for comments on Monday.
France, where nearly 25,000 people have died from the virus since March 1, confirmed its first three COVID-19 cases on January 24, including two patients in Paris and another in the southwestern city of Bordeaux.
Cohen said it was too early to know whether the patient whose test was COVID-19 positive on December 27 was France's "patient zero". Knowing who was the first is crucial to understanding the spread of the virus.
Cohen said the patient survived and an initial investigation to track the first contamination had been carried out.
"He was sick for 15 days and infected his two children, but not his wife, who works in a supermarket.
"He was amazed, he didn't understand how he got infected. We put the puzzle together and he didn't travel. The only contact he had was with his wife."
The man's wife worked next to a sushi stall near Chinese-based colleagues, Cohen said. It is not clear whether these colleagues have traveled to China, and the local health authority should investigate, he said.
"We wonder if she was asymptomatic," he said.
"He may be & # 39; patient zero & # 39; but there may be others in other regions. All negative pneumonia PCRs need to be retested. The virus probably circulated (then)," he said.
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