Cases in eight health workers and another patient have been linked to a private clinic in San Miguel de Tucumán, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in an email to CNN.
“Three of these cases have died, three are currently hospitalized and one is in stable condition at home,” Jasarevic said, adding that case samples have been analyzed for Covid-19, influenza and hantavirus, but all tested negative. The samples are further analyzed.
San Miguel de Tucumán is the capital of the agricultural province of Tucumán in northwestern Argentina.
The WHO and the Pan American Health Organization have followed up on these reports and are providing support to Argentina’s health authorities investigating the outbreak, Jasarevic said.
“The cause is currently under investigation by public health authorities and al [hypotheses] including viral and other agents,” wrote Jasarevic. “Argentine Health Ministry and provincial health authorities are working together to investigate the outbreak. They are also conducting contact tracing and monitoring actions at the healthcare clinic in connection with the outbreak.”
It’s important to wait for the results of the public health research before drawing conclusions about the nature of the diseases, said Dr. Jake Dunning, a senior research fellow in emerging and severe infections at the University of Oxford’s Pandemic Sciences Institute, said in a statement released by the UK-based Science Media Centre.
“The reported, currently small cluster of unexplained acute severe respiratory illnesses in Tucuman, Argentina is a live event and investigations are ongoing; understandably there will be interest and speculation about the cause, especially after everyone is nervous after the pandemic events of the past two years, but we really have to wait for the results of the public health and clinical trials that are underway.
“It is possible that more cases will be identified and reported in the future, as often happens with these types of events, but that does not mean that this event is the start of another pandemic,” he said.
Dunning noted that the link to a particular health center could indicate exposure to a patient with an infection, but it could also indicate exposure to an environmental agent or toxin.
“Argentina has a lot of experience investigating and managing outbreaks of serious acute respiratory diseases, especially those caused by infections (e.g. pandemic H1N1 flu, COVID-19, Andean hantavirus infection), so hopefully this cluster will remain relative small and the underlying cause will be identified quickly,” he said.
dr. Lance Turtle, an infectious disease expert at the University of Liverpool, agreed, saying in the statement: “We should not be concerned at this stage.”
“Pneumonia is very rarely diagnosed up to which specific microbe is causing it. Not all patients with pneumonia have the same clinical features, they can vary. If pneumonia looked slightly different than normal, and if there are fatalities, what seems like here it “If that’s the case, you’d expect to find the cause. But unexplained cases of pneumonia are probably common and unreported, meaning it’s hard to know how common these things really are,” he said.
CNN’s Carma Hassan contributed to this report.