Legionella bacteria cause pneumonia outbreak that left at least 4 dead in Argentina, says Health Minister

Legionella bacteria cause pneumonia outbreak that left at least 4 dead in Argentina, says Health Minister

The legionella bacterium has been identified as the cause of an outbreak of bilateral pneumonia (that is, in both lungs) in Argentina, which has already caused four deaths until this Saturday (3) at a clinic in San Miguel de Tucumã, in the northwest of the country, informed the Minister of Health, Carla Vizzotti.

Until the last update of this report, the total number of infected patients had reached 11 (see the chronology of diagnoses at the end of this report). Symptoms include fever, muscle and abdominal pain, diarrhea and shortness of breath.

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“The etiologic agent causing the bilateral pneumonia outbreak is legionella,” Vizzotti told a news conference. “We are typing the specific type of bacteria, but it is possible that it is [legionella] pneumophila. It is a bacterium that is transmitted by inhalation, through water or air conditioning.”

Found in freshwater environments such as lakes and streams, this bacteria can spread through water pipes and air conditioning ducts. It causes legionnaires’ disease, a rare and very serious type of pneumonia that causes fever and acute lung infection.

The cases are linked to the Luz Médica private clinic in Tucumán and affected mainly health professionals, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO), which started to monitor the outbreak and the assist local authorities.

Before the health minister’s press conference, Hector Sale, president of the faculty of medicine in the province of Tucumán, declared: “we are not dealing with a disease that causes transmission from person to person”. According to him, the assessment is based on the fact that no cases were identified among close contacts of any of the patients.

From the outset, Covid, influenza, influenza and hantavirus were ruled out as causes of the outbreak.

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This Saturday, the death of the fourth patient, a 48-year-old man who was hospitalized in serious condition, was reported. “Four of the patients remain hospitalized, three of them with mechanical respiratory assistance. Another three are under home monitoring, with a less complex clinical picture,” said Luis Medina Ruiz, Health Minister of Tucumán, at the press conference.

The outbreak took place at a private clinic 1,300 kilometers north of Buenos Aires. The patients, most of them health professionals, showed their first symptoms on August 18. “Now patients are being transferred and actions are being taken at the clinic to identify if [a bactéria] is in the water,” said the minister.

View the chronology of diagnoses:

  • The first patients showed symptoms between August 18 and 22.
  • On August 30, an initial report included five health workers and a clinic patient among the infected.
  • On September 1, local health officials reported three more cases, bringing the total to nine.
  • On September 3, Argentina reported the tenth infected patient, later raised to 11, according to local media.

According to local newspapers in Tucumán, the first test results sent to the Instituto Nacional de Microbiologia Dr. Malbrán had already tested positive for legionella. At the same time, experts analyzed the water and air conditioning units to identify possible contamination or poisoning.

Before the confirmation that legionella caused the disease, Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Minnesota in the US, said that since the patients’ lungs were heavily attacked, the cause was likely linked to something the infected inhaled.

According to him, “mysterious diseases”, most of the time, can be explained by some local outbreak without pandemic implications.

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