An unknown type of bilateral pneumonia has caused nine illnesses, three hospitalizations, and three deaths in Argentina, according to a statement this week from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO). The outbreak includes one patient and eight healthcare workers, per the statement, and all cases are related to the same health care center.
The illnesses have all occurred at a private health clinic in the Tucumán province, in northern Argentina, and officials don’t yet know the cause of the illness (which you may have seen referred to as the etiological identification). According to the statement, samples have been tested for respiratory viruses (including COVID-19) as well as viral, bacterial, and fungal infections —more than 26 different possible causes in all, according to reporting from Insider—but all have come back negative, the statement said.
The symptoms reported so far include fever, abdominal pain, muscle pain, and difficulty breathing. The illness is causing bilateral pneumonia, meaning the inflammation is present in both lungs.
One of the nine people who has gotten sick with the illness has been discharged from the hospital and is isloating at home and in stable condition. The PAHO statement says that the three people who died from the illness had other health conditions (called comorbidities), though it didn’t mention what the specific comorbidities were.
Right now, officials say they are submitting the samples they’ve collected for toxicological analysis at the National Administration of Laboratories and Health Institutes, per the statement. They are also conducting contact tracing to identify other people who may have been exposed. As of September 1, no close contacts of the three fatalities had developed symptoms of the illness, per the statement. The PAHO and WHO are continuing to investigate the outbreak with the Argentinian health authorities.
If reading about a new unknown illness is anxiety-provoking for you, you’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic, not to mention the ongoing monkeypox outbreak as well as the first reported case of polio in the US in nearly a decade, has shaped the way we view news like this. But context is key, and it’s important to keep in mind that not every new illness turns into a pandemic. In other words, until we know more, there’s no need to panic.