A Frenchman was stricken by the coronavirus back in December — a month before the contagion was thought to have reached Europe, scientists have confirmed after testing old samples.
Amirouche Hammar, a fishmonger in Paris, told French TV how late last year he had been left coughing up blood with the now-known classic symptoms of COVID-19, including chest pains and breathing difficulties.
He was told it was “not normal flu” when he went to a hospital on Dec. 27 — but at the time the pandemic was completely unknown.
It would be four days before Chinese authorities first alerted the World Health Organization to the mysterious viral pneumonia killing people in Wuhan — and almost a month before it was first reported in France.
The 43-year-old dad was finally confirmed to have been infected after doctors reviewed retrospective samples of 14 patients treated for pneumonia between December and mid-January, according to a study published in the International Journal of Microbial Agents.
“Identifying the first infected patient is of great epidemiological interest as it changes dramatically our knowledge” of the disease’s spread, wrote Dr. Yves Cohen, one of the French researchers.
Of particular note, the fishmonger had not traveled to Wuhan, like the two people who were assumed to be the first confirmed cases in France on Jan. 24. The European nation has since had almost 170,000 confirmed cases and more than 25,000 deaths, data showed Tuesday.
Cohen told BFM-TV that when Hammar first sought treatment they figured he was simply suffering from a form of viral pneumonia.
“We told ourselves, ‘It’s a virus that we haven’t discovered,’ but we stopped there,’” he said.
But Hammer says the symptoms that left him rushing to an emergency room at 5 a.m. now appear to be classic signs of the illness that has killed more than 252,000 worldwide.
“They said, ‘Perhaps you have an infection, a pulmonary infection, although it’s not certain. But what you have is very serious, very serious, because you are coughing blood. It’s not normal flu,’” he recalled.
Christian Lindmeier, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, described the findings as “exciting news” and said they could help scientists better understand the evolution of the new coronavirus.
“This gives us a whole new picture on everything, and yes of course, it would be great if all countries who have unspecified cases of pneumonia in the recent months, and even in December, and in even in November, would check them against COVID-19,” he said.
With Post wires
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