What is the ‘mystery’ pneumonia in Argentina?

·2-min read
X-rays of the pneumonia look very similar to Covid images  (REUTERS)
X-rays of the pneumonia look very similar to Covid images (REUTERS)

Fears are growing over a “mysterious” strain of pneumonia that appears to have killed three people in Argentina.

Three other people also needed hospital treatment after contracting “pneumonia of unknown origin”, the Argentinian health authorities announced. All of the cases centre around a private medical clinic in north-western Tucumán province.

Five of the six people infected were healthcare workers, which suggests an infectious agent might be involved, they added.

Speaking on Wednesday to local media, Luis Medina Ruiz, the Tucumán province Minister of Health, said: “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.”

But what is the mystery pneumonia recorded in Argentina? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is the mystery pneumonia recorded in Argentina?

Mr Medina Ruiz added that all six of the patients have been tested for “Covid, cold, influenza, and both types of A + and B +, Hantavirus, and 25 other germs”, but no virus has yet been identified.

The six cases, consisting of five health workers and one 70-year-patient, presented bilateral pneumonia symptoms, and three are still hospitalised, with another remaining person in “good health in home isolation”.

The Tucumán Health Ministry is investigating the cause and route of the transmission, after the cases were first discovered in mid-August, but the private health-care centre has been locked down, and stopped taking new patients.

Since August 22, no new cases have been detected.

There had been concerns that the mystery virus mirrored the early stages of Covid-19, when it was first discovered in Wuhan, China. However, experts say that more data is necessary before “ringing the alarm”.

Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global health at Edinburgh University and author of Preventable, told The Telegraph: “It’s obviously concerning but we still need key information on transmission and hopefully [on the] underlying cause.

“This shows our collective vulnerability to dangerous pathogens. An outbreak in any part of the world – if not quickly contained – can spread rapidly given air travel and trade.”

Prof Beate Kampmann, from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. told the BBC: “It is too early to comment on whether this represents a threat to a wider population or remains restricted to the institution, or whether it might be caused by a new pathogen or one we already know about.”

Professor Peter Horby, from Oxford University, said there were echos of how the Covid outbreak began, with infections in healthcare workers involving severe pneumonia.

However, he added: “People shouldn’t be overly alarmed. There are other potential explanations.

“At the moment, I’m not overly concerned but I’ll be watching it like a hawk.”