Cristoli virus: New virus discovered in Paris using coronavirus technique
Cristoli virus (Screen Capture)

French scientists have discovered a new virus in a hospital just outside of Paris using the same technique used to identify the coronavirus behind the Covid-19 pandemic, though they say there is no reason to suspect it will lead to a similar health crisis.

The virus was discovered in a 58-year-old woman from Paris who died of encephalitis – a swelling of the brain - in 2019 and has been named “Cristoli virus” after the Paris suburb of Créteil where it was identified.

But researchers say it is too early to tell to what extent the virus was responsible as the patient had several severe underlying conditions.

“What is important to note is that this encephalitis occurred in someone very immunocompromised, it was a person who was very sick and had other pathologies,” Professor Jean-Michel Pawlotsky, head of medical biology at the Henri-Mondor Hospital in Créteil, where the discovery was made,” told AFP.

“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. “

The new virus is a type of orthobunyavirus, a family of pathogens commonly spread by mosquitoes.

It was discovered using a technique known as metagenomics, which was also used by Chinese researchers to identify the Covid-19 virus when it first emerged in Wuhan last year.

Scientists take a sample of body fluid or tissue – in this case from the patient’s brain – and sequence any DNA present. This allows them to identify all organisms in the sample at once.

But beyond the method of discovery, there is little to link the new virus with the Covid-19 coronavirus, say the researchers.

“The mode of transmission of this disease has nothing to do with coronavirus. With coronavirus, it’s a direct human-to-human transmission with droplets and therefore a possibility of epidemic spread which is very important,” said Professor Pawlotsky.

“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. We suspect it’s through insects because insects transmit this type of viral infection but we have absolutely no proof of that today.”

The identification of another new virus shortly after coronavirus is in fact a sign of improving methods of detection, say the researchers, something they expect to lead to increasing numbers of new pathogens being found in the future.

“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.”