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Experts are concerned about mysterious pneumonia in Argentina

dr  Davidson Hammer (pictured), an infectious disease expert at Boston University, told the current risk level for Americans is 0.1 in 10

A mysterious form of pneumonia has emerged in Argentina, infecting ten people and killing three. Some fear the mysterious infection could be the source of the next Covid-like pandemic, although experts say it’s too early to be sure.

The mysterious disease was discovered in the South American province of Tucumán – the most densely populated part of Argentina. Officials are not sure what caused the disease but have ruled out clear suspects including Covid, influenza and hantavirus.

Some worry it may have jumped from animals to humans. Eight confirmed cases among health workers in the region have also been infected – suggesting it is contagious.

dr  Davidson Hammer (pictured), an infectious disease expert at Boston University, told the current risk level for Americans is 0.1 in 10

dr Davidson Hammer (pictured), an infectious disease expert at Boston University, told the current risk level for Americans is 0.1 in 10

While officials in Argentina are sounding the alarm about the unknown disease, many experts aren’t entirely concerned. dr Davidson Hammer, an infectious disease expert at Boston University, told the current risk level for Americans is 0.1 in 10.

Others say it’s too early to write it off, but that the outbreak is likely to “fizzle out” like many other mystery diseases in the past.

Hammer says that in a pre-Covid world, many of these types of warnings surfaced before experts discovered the disease in question was something they already knew about.

“In my experience over the past 20 years, there are regular alerts about a mystery illness or mystery pneumonia in an area of ​​the world that may not have a good diagnostic capacity,” he explained.

“Then they find that this isn’t uncommon when they do more extensive testing.”

However, there are some examples where the infection was novel. He cites the 2002 outbreak of SARS, which initially began as an unknown disease in Guangdong, China.

Then there is the mysterious disease that emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019, eventually erupting into the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says that ruling out some common causes of pneumonia so quickly is “worrying” because it increases the likelihood that the virus is something new and potentially dangerous.

Overall, however, he says it’s too early for Americans to worry. He rated the current risk factor as “0.1” on a scale of 10.

The mysterious pneumonia emerged in Argentina's Tucuman province, the South American nation's densest region

The mysterious pneumonia emerged in Argentina’s Tucuman province, the South American nation’s densest region

The disease was detected in ten patients, eight of whom were health workers.  Three deaths have been confirmed as part of the outbreak (file photo)

The disease was detected in ten patients, eight of whom were health workers. Three deaths have been confirmed as part of the outbreak (file photo)

Other experts told that it’s still too early to make any determinations about this infection.

“I think it’s too early to know just how much of a public health concern this outbreak of pneumonia in Argentina is,” said Dr. William Petri, Professor of Medicine at the University of Virginia.

“Our ability to identify the cause of pneumonia through a combination of molecular testing and classical cultures is much better, although not perfect, so uncertainty about the cause of the outbreak will continue for the next few days to weeks.”


What happened? Nine people in Argentina have contracted pneumonia, an inflammation of tissue in the lungs.

ALSO READ:  American children got 10 per cent fatter during the pandemic, 'alarming' study suggests

Pneumonia is usually caused by a bacterial infection or a virus.

The Argentine patients tested negative for 30 common viruses, raising concerns that a new pathogen could be the culprit.

Who is affected? Eight healthcare workers and one patient in intensive care were infected.

The 70-year-old patient was being treated at a private hospital in Tucumán, a small region 800 miles northwest of the capital, Buenos Aires.

The patient and two doctors at the hospital have died. Of the remaining six infected, two are being monitored at home and four are in serious condition in hospital.

Is it a concern? Western experts said it was too early to sound the alarm.

But the similarities between the origins of Covid and the brutal last two years of the pandemic will undoubtedly be a cause for concern.

Reports of unexplained pneumonia leaked out of Wuhan, China in December 2019.

dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, told “Further research is needed to understand what’s behind these cases of pneumonia. It is important that this outbreak be investigated in detail and an ideological causative agent found.’

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia in England, told MailOnline: “These notifications of unexplained pneumonia do come from time to time.

“And while most of these outbreaks eventually fizzle out, with or without a diagnosis, that’s not guaranteed, as we’re all only too aware.

“The key is to have these samples analyzed further to narrow down which virus or bacterium is responsible.”

Advisors to the World Health Organization have publicly supported theories that the outbreak may have been caused by a form of Legionella – a bacterium that grows in water systems.

The three fatalities are two medical professionals and a 70-year-old woman who were admitted to the clinic in northern Argentina.

The first death was logged on Monday, the second on Wednesday and the third on Thursday.

Health chiefs said the woman, who was in hospital for surgery, could be “patient zero,” but that hypothesis is still under investigation.

Of the six people treated, four were in serious condition in hospital and two were in isolation at home.

All other clinic staff were monitored.

Symptoms previously associated with the disease include vomiting, high fever, diarrhea and body aches.

Tucumán Health Minister Luis Medina Ruiz told local media: “What these patients have in common is severe respiratory disease with bilateral pneumonia and impairments [X-ray] Pictures very similar to Covid but that is ruled out.

He said patients had been tested for more than 30 bugs – including “Covid, cold, influenza both type A and B” – all of which came back negative.

Samples were sent to Argentina’s National Administration of Health Laboratories and Institutes for further analysis.

The hospital has been locked down and patient contacts are being traced and isolated.

Officials are also investigating whether the spate of cases is the result of a bacterial outbreak, possibly due to contaminated water or contaminated air conditioners.

The Health Ministry said the outbreak could have started from an infectious agent but did not rule out “toxic or environmental causes”.

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