French scientists have discovered a new virus using the same technique that identified the coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic.
A 58-year-old Parisian woman who died of encephalitis at a hospital in the suburb of Créteil was found to have the new virus in 2019, the France Presse agency reported Tuesday.
It was discovered with a technique known as metagenomics, which Chinese researchers used to identify the COVID-19 virus when it first appeared in Wuhan last year.
But French scientists said there is no reason to suspect that the new virus, dubbed the “Cristoli virus,” will lead to a coronavirus-like crisis.
And beyond the discovery method, they said there is little to link the Cristoli virus to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“The mode of transmission of this disease has nothing to do with the coronavirus,” said Professor Jean-Michel Pawlotsky, chief of medical biology at Henri-Mondor Hospital, where the discovery was made.
“With coronavirus, it’s direct person-to-person transmission with drops and therefore a very important possibility of epidemic spread.”
Scientists suspect that the woman caught the new virus through an insect, “but today we have absolutely no proof of that,” Pawlotsky said.
“We are dealing with something very different and frankly, we don’t know today how this patient contracted this disease, how she contracted this virus,” he said.
However, scientists say the new virus is a type of ortobunya virus, a family of pathogens commonly transmitted by mosquitoes.
It is also unclear how much the virus contributed to the patient’s death, since she was immunocompromised and had other ailments, the researchers said.
“At the moment, we only have one case to describe. Obviously, if other cases are diagnosed in the future, we will be able to have a slightly more precise idea of the clinical picture associated with this disease, “said Pawlotsky.
But in encouraging news, discovering the Cristoli virus soon after the coronavirus is a sign of improved detection methods, which could lead to more new pathogens in the future, the scientists said.
“It is not worrying, the fact that we have new viruses, because that is the history of life in general,” Dr. Christophe Rodríguez, from the hospital’s virology department, told AFP.
“We have always had new microorganisms and new viruses, especially through the ages. It’s just that in previous years we simply couldn’t detect them. The main point of being able to detect them now is to be able to prevent them and also to design programs to deal with them later ”.