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Should we worry about the “unknown” pneumonia which killed 3 in Argentina: “The next few weeks will be decisive”

Three people died in Argentina after pneumonia whose origin remains unknown. While the Covid-19 epidemic is on everyone’s mind, the country’s health authorities are trying to reassure people about the risk of an epidemic. Should we be worried about this possible new disease? The answer of Mircea Sofonea, lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Montpellier.

In Argentina, three people have died of pneumonia, the origin of which remains unknown for the time being. The victims are a patient and two members of the medical staff of a private clinic in San Miguel de Tucuman, in the northwest of the country. In total, nine cases have been listed by the health authorities who are wondering about the origin of this infection which causes symptoms similar to those of covid: vomiting, high fever, body aches then severe respiratory syndrome for the most serious cases.

The trauma of Covid-19 should not be transposed, even if the threat of a new epidemic exists

A scenario reminiscent of the emergence of the coronavirus at the end of 2019 in the city of Wuhan, China. For researcher Mircea Sofonea, lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Montpellier, it is still too early to draw alarmist conclusions. But caution is still in order.

“There are emerging diseases every year that are subject to more or less increased surveillance depending on their characteristics and the place where they appear.specifies the Hérault specialist. 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.

A race against time

Medical investigations have already begun at the Malbranen Institute, a benchmark in Argentina. “So far, we have not found anything that allows us to know the cause of the disease. As we do not know what it consists of, we do not know the evolution well.“, confirmed the provincial Minister of Health.

Mircea Sofonea is a lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Montpellier.
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“We do not currently have enough elements to assess the risk. We are not even sure that it is indeed a new pathogenrecalls Mircea Sofonea. If so, getting to know it well will take time. For Covid-19, it took three weeks to identify the virus, even though China is at the forefront of infectious disease research. The next few weeks will be decisive and I hope that a global collaboration will be put in place to allow us to go faster”.

Several reassuring factors

Several factors, however, push the Montpellier infectious disease specialist, like his Argentinian counterparts, to optimism. All of the cases identified are linked to the private clinic in San Miguel de Tucuman where “patient zero” – a 70-year-old woman who is among the victims – had been operated on. The president of the Medical College of the province of Tucuman, Hector Sale, also specified that the contagiousness seemed limited.

“At the beginning, we always focus on severe cases. But we don’t know if there are mild or asymptomatic forms, like for Covid-19. If the presence of a new pathogen is confirmed, the work of research has only just begun…”concluded the Montpellier researcher.

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