New ‘Cristoli virus’ discovered in Paris using coronavirus technique


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, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.

It was discovered with a technique known as metagenomic — which Chinese researchers used to identify the COVID-19 virus when it first emerged in Wuhan last year.

But the French scientists said there’s no reason to suspect the new virus — dubbed “Cristoli virus” — will lead to a similar crisis as the coronavirus.

And beyond the method of discovery, they said there’s little to link Cristoli virus with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“The mode of transmission of this disease has nothing to do with coronavirus,” said Professor Jean-Michel Pawlotsky, head of medical biology at the Henri-Mondor Hospital, where the discovery was made.

An empty room in the new intensive care unit building of the Henri Mondor Hospital in Creteil, near ParisAFP via Getty Images

“With coronavirus, it’s a direct human-to-human transmission with droplets and therefore a possibility of epidemic spread which is very important.”

Scientists suspect the woman caught the new virus through an insect, “but we have absolutely no proof of that today,” Pawlotsky said.

“We are dealing with something very different and, frankly, we do not know today how this patient caught this disease, how she caught this virus,” he said.

However, scientists say the new virus is a type of orthobunyavirus, a family of pathogens commonly spread by mosquitoes.

It’s also unclear how much the virus contributed to the patient’s death, as she was immunocompromised and suffered from other ailments, the researchers said.

“At the moment, we have only 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,” Pawlotsky said.

But in encouraging news, discovering the Cristoli virus so soon after the coronavirus is a sign of improving methods of detection — which could lead to an increasing number of new pathogens being found in the future, the scientists said.

“It’s not worrying, the fact that we have new viruses, because that’s the story of life in general,” Dr. Christophe Rodriguez, of the hospital’s virology department told AFP.

“We’ve always had new micro-organisms and new viruses, especially through the ages. It’s just that in previous years we just weren’t able to detect them. The whole point of being able to detect them now is to be able to prevent them and also design programs to treat them later.”


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