what we know about the pneumonia of unknown origin which has already claimed three lives in a clinic

Should we fear a new pandemic? Three people died since Monday in Tucuman, in the northwest of Argentina, following severe pneumonia, cases extremely localized around the same clinic. If the symptoms resemble those of Covid, the virus which appeared in China in 2019 and which killed 15 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has however been ruled out.

Franceinfo takes stock of the information available on this new pathology.

Nine cases, three deaths, located in the same clinic

Nine cases in total, including eight members of the nursing staff, have been identified, with symptoms appearing between August 18 and 23, explained at a press conference on Thursday, September 1, the provincial Minister of Health, Luis Medina Ruiz. Two members of the nursing staff at the private clinic in San Miguel de Tucuman, located 1,300 km from Buenos Aires, died on Monday and Wednesday, and the minister announced the death of a third person on Thursday. This 70-year-old woman was a patient of this clinic.

This patient “had been operated on for a gallbladder problem, then re-operated twice. From then on, there was a picture of lung infection which coincided with the onset [des symptômes] at the others”, said Luis Medina Ruiz. She could “in principle to be the ‘zero patient’, but it is under examination”.

Infectiologist Mario Raya, deputy director of the Zenon Santillan Health Center, the main public hospital in Tucuman, also assured Thursday that “at the moment, we have no cases outside of this establishment”.

Symptoms similar to those of Covid

In-depth examinations are underway at the Argentine reference laboratory, the Malbran Institute in Buenos Aires, and results are expected soon. But already, Covid, flu, type A and B influenza, and hantavirus (transmitted by rodents) in particular have been ruled out, Luis Ruiz Medina announced on Wednesday.

Common symptoms are “a severe respiratory state with bilateral pneumonia, and imaging very similar to Covid, but this has been ruled out“, he had also reported.

“Most started with vomiting, high fever, diarrhea and body aches, with a more complex course in some.”

Luis Medina Ruiz, Provincial Minister of Health

Of the six patients still alive, four are hospitalized with more or less serious symptoms, and two are being monitored in isolation at home. The three new cases revealed on Thursday are a 40-year-old nurse’s aide and nurse, and a 30-year-old nurse with comorbidities.

Ongoing analyzes to determine the origin of this disease

Regarding the origin of the pathology, the provincial Minister of Health on Wednesday speculated that it could come from an infectious agent, but that were not excluded “toxic or environmental causes”. Therefore, analyzes are also being carried out on the clinic’s water and air conditioning systems. “So far, we have not found anything that allows us to know the cause of the epidemic. As we do not know what it consists of, we do not know its evolution well”did he declare.

Human-to-human transmission a priori ruled out

According to the provincial Minister of Health, no cases have been identified among close contacts of patients to date, a “positive news” according to him. “It would not be a disease that results in person-to-person transmission, as close contacts of these patients have no symptoms”, explained Wednesday, in the same direction, the president of the Medical College of the province of Tucuman, Hector Sale. While expressing his “worry” for an obvious pathology “agressive”.

“There’s has every year emerging diseases which are the subject of more or less increased surveillance depending on their characteristics and the place where they appear”, ensures the Free lunch Mircea Sofonea, lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Montpellier. “Argentina is not China. Population density and connections to the rest of the world are lower, so the risk of global spread is more limited.”

We must not transpose the trauma of Covid-19, even if the threat of a new epidemic exists.

Mircea Sofonea, lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Montpellier

at “Free lunch”

“If the presence of a new pathogen is confirmed, the research work has only just begun…” concludes Mircea Sofonea.

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