The World Health Organization (WHO) is monitoring ten cases of bilateral pneumonia of unknown origin in a hospital in the province of Tucumán, Argentina. The outbreak has already claimed three deaths – the latest victim was a 70-year-old woman who had been hospitalized for surgery.
The cases are linked to the private clinic Luz Médica, in the northwestern city of San Miguel de Tucumán, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the WHO’s regional office.
See the contagion schedule:
- The first patients showed symptoms between August 18 and 22.
- Last Tuesday (30), an initial report included five health professionals and a patient at the clinic among the contaminated.
- On Thursday, local health officials reported three more cases, bringing the total to nine.
- On Friday (03), Argentina reported the tenth case.
Symptoms include fever, muscle and abdominal pain, diarrhea and shortness of breath.
Initial tests for known respiratory viruses and other agents (viral, bacterial and fungal) were negative, PAHO said. Biological samples were sent to Argentina’s National Administration of Laboratories and Institutes of Health for further testing, which will include analysis for the presence of toxins.
According to local newspapers in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán, the first results sent to the Instituto Nacional de Microbiologia Dr. Malbrán tested positive for the legionella bacteria. Initial tests had been negative for this pathogen.
At the same time, experts analyze the water and air conditioning units to identify possible contamination or poisoning. PAHO and WHO are monitoring the outbreak and assisting local health authorities with the investigation.
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What the experts say
Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Minnesota in the US, said that, as the lungs are heavily attacked, the cause is likely linked to something the patients inhaled.
According to him, “mysterious diseases”, most of the time, can be explained by some local outbreak that does not have pandemic implications.
For Hector Sale, president of the faculty of medicine in the province of Tucumán, “we are not dealing with a disease that causes person-to-person transmission”, as no cases have been identified among close contacts of any of the patients.