A mysterious form of pneumonia has emerged in Argentina, infecting ten people and killing three. Some fear that the mysterious infection could be the source of the next Covid-like pandemic, though experts are saying it is too early to be sure.
The mysterious illness was detected in the South American nation’s Tucumán province – the most densely populated part of Argentina. Officials are not sure what the source of the sickness is, but have ruled out clear suspects like Covid, influenza and hantavirus.
Some fear that it could have jumped from an animals to humans. Eight confirmed cases are among health workers in the region have been infected as well – indicating that it is contagious.
Dr Davidson Hammer (pictured), an infectious disease expert at Boston University, told DailyMail.com that the current risk level to Americans is a 0.1 out of 10
While officials in Argentina are sounding alarms about the unknown disease, many experts are not quite yet concerned. Dr Davidson Hammer, an infectious disease expert at Boston University, told DailyMail.com that the current risk level to Americans is a 0.1 out of 10.
Others are saying that it is too early to write it off, but that it is likely that the outbreak will ‘fizzle out’ the way many other mysterious illnesses in the past.
Hammer says that in a pre-Covid world, many of these types of alerts would emerge before experts figured out that the illness in question was something they had already known about.
‘In my experience over the last 20 years or so, there are periodic alerts that come out about a mysterious illness or mysterious pneumonia and it’s in an area of the world where good diagnostic capacity might not exist,’ he explained.
‘Then they find that it’s something not that uncommon once they do more extensive testing.’
There are some examples were the infection was novel, though. He cites the 2002 outbreak of SARS that first started as an unknown sickness in Guangdong, China.
Then there is the mysterious illness that emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019 that eventually erupted into the COVID-19 pandemic.
He says that the ruling out of some common causes of pneumonia so quickly is ‘worrisome’, as it increases chances the virus is something novel and potentially dangerous.
Overall, he says it is too early for Americans to worry, though. He rated the current risk factor as a ‘0.1’ on a scale to 10.
The mysterious pneumonia emerged in Argentina’s Tucuman province, the most dense of the South American nation’s regions
The disease has been found in ten patients, eight of which were health care workers. Three deaths have been confirmed as part of the outbreak (file photo)
Other experts told DailyMail.com that it is too early to make any sort of determinations about this infection.
‘I think it too early to know how much of a public health concern this outbreak of pneumonia in Argentina is,’ Dr William Petri, a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia, said.
‘Our ability to identify the cause of pneumonia, by a combination of molecular tests and well as classical cultures, is much better although not perfect, so uncertainty as to the cause of the outbreak my continue over the next days to weeks.’
ARGENTINA OUTBREAK: WHAT DO WE KNOW?
What has happened? Nine people in Argentina have been struck down with pneumonia, inflammation of tissue in the lungs.
Pneumonia is usually caused by a bacterial infection or a virus.
The Argentinian patients have tested negative for 30 common viruses, which is raising concerns a new pathogen could be the culprit.
Who is affected? Eight health workers and one ICU patient have been 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 female patient and two medics at the hospital have died. Of the remaining six infected, two are being monitored at home and four are in a serious condition in hospital.
Is it a concern? Western experts have said it is too soon to sound the alarm.
But the similarities to Covid’s origin and the brutal last two years of the pandemic will no doubt raise concerns.
Reports of an unexplained pneumonia began to leak out of Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, told DailyMail.com: ‘more investigation to understand what is behind these cases of pneumonia is necessary. It’s important that this outbreak be studied in detail and an ideological agent found.’
Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia in England, told MailOnline: ‘These notifications of unexplained pneumonia do happen from time to time.
‘And although most such outbreaks eventually fizzle out with or without a diagnosis, that is not guaranteed, as we are all too aware.
‘The crucial thing is to get these samples further examined to try and narrow down on which virus or bacterium is responsible.’
World Health Organization advisers have publicly backed theories that the outbreak could have been triggered by a form of legionella — a bacteria that grows in water systems.
The three fatalities are among two medics and one 70-year-old woman who had been admitted to the clinic in northern Argentina.
The first death was logged on Monday, the second Wednesday and the third on Thursday.
Health chiefs said the woman, who was in the hospital for surgery, may be ‘patient zero’ but it is still investigating this hypothesis.
Of the six people receiving treatment, four were in serious condition in hospital and two were in isolation at home.
All other staff at the clinic were being monitored.
The symptoms linked with the illness so far include vomiting, a high fever, diarrhea and body aches.
Luis Medina Ruiz, Tucumán’s minister of health, told local media: ‘What these patients have in common is the severe respiratory condition with bilateral pneumonia and compromise in [X-ray] images very similar to Covid, but that is ruled out.’
He said the patients were tested for more than 30 bugs —including ‘Covid, cold, influenza of both type A and B’ — all of which came back negative.
Samples have been sent to Argentina’s National Administration of Health Laboratories and Institutes for further analysis.
The hospital has been locked down and contacts of patients are being traced and isolated.
Officials are also probing whether the spate of cases is the result of a bacterial outbreak, possibly due to contaminated water or air conditioning units.
The health ministry said the outbreak could have come from an infectious agent, but it has not ruled out ‘toxic or environmental causes.’