What is the mystery pneumonia that killed three in Argentina?

Testing has ruled out coronavirus, influenza, hantavirus and about 30 other possible causes. Here's what we know.

 Kinesiologist Maria Luz Porra puts on a mask shield before checking patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in an intensive care unit of a hospital, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina October 16, 2020.  (photo credit: AGUSTIN MARCARIAN/REUTERS)
Kinesiologist Maria Luz Porra puts on a mask shield before checking patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in an intensive care unit of a hospital, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina October 16, 2020.
(photo credit: AGUSTIN MARCARIAN/REUTERS)

Three people have died after being hospitalized with bilateral pneumonia — pneumonia that affects both lungs — in Argentina, with doctors struggling to figure out what's causing the disease, the Public Health Ministry in the province of Tucumán announced on Thursday.

The patients suffered from fever, abdominal pain, shortness of breath and muscle aches.

In total, nine people have been affected by the pneumonia, all of whom are linked to the intensive care unit of a private hospital in San Miguel de Tucumán, including one patient and eight health workers.

Testing has ruled out coronavirus, influenza, hantavirus and about 30 other possible causes. Public health officials have tested for both viruses and bacteria with no luck and are collecting DNA samples in order to eventually make a genomic identification of any virus or viral particle that can be found.

Health officials are conducting tests for toxicological causes as well.

Flag of Argentina (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Flag of Argentina (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Samples were sent to the Malbrán National Institute of Microbiology in Buenos Aires, but the tests are also returning negative there so far, said Dr. Luis Medina Ruiz, the head of the Public Health Ministry in Tucumán, during a press conference on Thursday.

Health officials in the province continue to conduct testing on blood, phlegm and urine samples for all the viruses and bacteria that they can test for.

"We are all on alert about this issue"

“We are all on alert about this issue, that is why it is essential to inform ourselves through official means, we are issuing communications to the guards and public and private intensive care units, due to the possible appearance of a patient with these characteristics, especially to make an adequate diagnosis with all the necessary protocols and PPE, as recommended for all patients with respiratory conditions," said Ruiz.

"This situation is unpredictable, in principle, more than eleven days have passed, and each patient has a different evolution, for example, one of them presents bilateral pneumonia with a significant commitment from the tomographic point of view, but you have to wait for the evolution since it is a disease whose origin is still unknown, therefore, the evolution is also unpredictable," added the Public Health Ministry head.

All of the patients have some type of comorbidities, such as smoking, COPD, a history of respiratory symptoms, obesity, diabetes or high blood pressure, according to health officials.

"We are not leaving any hypotheses unopened, we have more than thirty possible germs that we have the ability to detect and they are giving negative results, but we must also take into account that many times there may be a previous intake of antibiotics that can hide the etiology (cause of the disease)," said Ruiz.

The World Health Organization is monitoring the situation along with Argentinian health officials.