‘Mysterious’ pneumonia that killed six people in Argentina is ‘legionnaire’: riddle solved after fears of another Covid-like outbreak
- Two men, aged 81 and 64, became the last to die from the outbreak on Sunday
- All six people who died of pneumonia tested positive for Legionella
- Several forms of bacteria can cause the deadly Legionnaires’ disease
Legionnaires’ disease is responsible for six ‘mysterious’ pneumonia deaths in Argentina, officials said today.
The situation in Tucuman, a small region 800 miles northwest of the capital Buenos Aires, has sparked fear because of its similarities to the start of the Covid outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Experts were worried because Covid, flu and hantavirus were all ruled out, raising the possibility that a never-before-seen pathogen may have jumped from animals to humans.
But follow-up tests confirmed that all 11 sick patients had tested positive for Legionella.
The bacteria can cause legionellosis, a severe form of pneumonia that can be fatal.
Victims to date include a 70-year-old woman who underwent gallbladder surgery and a 64-year-old man hospitalized with another illness.
An 81-year-old man in Tucaman was the latest to die from the previously unexplained illness, officials confirmed today.
Six people have died of mysterious pneumonia in Argentina, raising fears of a new viral outbreak (file image)
The cases occurred in Tucumán, a small region 800 miles northwest of the capital Buenos Aires
ARGENTINE OUTBREAK: WHAT DO WE KNOW?
What happened? Eleven people in Argentina have been stricken with pneumonia, an inflammation of the tissues in the lungs.
Pneumonia is usually caused by a bacterial infection or a virus.
Argentinian patients have tested negative for 30 common viruses, raising fears that a new pathogen may be the culprit.
But health officials have confirmed that all of the cases tested positive for Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.
Who is affected? At least eight health workers and one patient in intensive care have been infected, with the rest made up of other hospitalized patients.
A 70-year-old woman who was being treated at a private clinic in Tucuman, a small region 800 miles northwest of the capital Buenos Aires, was the first to die on Monday.
The next deaths were two doctors on Wednesday and Thursday and a 48-year-old man on Saturday.
Two men, aged 81 and 64, died on Sunday.
Two infected people are still hospitalized, while three are undergoing outpatient treatment with follow-up at home.
Is this a concern? Western experts said it was too early to sound the alarm.
Outbreaks of legionellosis are common and usually self-limiting due to death from the disease.
And the bacteria causing the disease doesn’t always cause death, often resulting in milder symptoms.
But the similarities to the origin of Covid and the pandemic’s brutal last two years have raised concerns.
Reports of unexplained pneumonia began leaking from Wuhan, China in December 2019.
All of the cases have been linked to the same cluster at a private health clinic in the northwestern town of San Miguel de Tucuman.
Last week, experts called the outbreak “worrying”, saying cases among healthcare workers could indicate person-to-person transmission.
The Tucaman Department of Public Health initially dubbed the cases “pneumonia of unknown origin.”
Similar terminology was used in Wuhan in December 2019, in what later turned out to be Covid.
However, other experts have argued that similar clusters occur frequently and tend to “fade”.
Two of those infected are still in hospital, while three are being monitored at home.
Twelve other patients from the clinic who were not struck by the disease were transferred to the Centro de Salud hospital in the same city.
Health authorities moved patients as part of their contingency plan to prevent further spread.
Speaking on Saturday, Argentine Health Minister Carla Vizzotti said: “It has a greater impact on people with risky conditions.”
‘[These include] people over 50, smokers or certain other chronic diseases such as diabetes, immunosuppression or respiratory diseases, which are the majority of cases with a fatal outcome.
Legionella is usually transmitted by breathing in tiny water droplets containing the causative bacteria.
This is usually done through air conditioning systems, spas and humidifiers.
Hospitals, hotels and offices are where it spreads most often.
Most cases of legionellosis – the umbrella term for illnesses caused by the bacteria – do not kill, causing only fever, chills and headaches for two to five days.
But some can turn into life-threatening pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs that can also cause muscle pain, diarrhea and confusion.
This is what happens with Legionnaire’s disease.
The outbreak in Argentina has caused the same symptoms.
Armyworm, which can be treated with antibiotics, usually kills around 10% of the people it infects.
Professor Paul Hunter told MailOnline: ‘This is not the next pandemic. You don’t spread person-to-person with Legionnaires.
“It’s almost certainly a plumbing issue. In the past, you’ve seen outbreaks from dirty showerheads, which tend to be quite localized.
“If it’s a problem with a water cooling tower, you tend to see larger outbreaks than that, but based on the information we have right now, a shower head or plumbing seems more likely.”
‘Mysterious’ pneumonia in Argentina that killed six ‘is Legionnaire’s disease’, experts say