Mystery respiratory illness kills 3 and sickens 7 in Argentina, health officials say

A mystery respiratory illness has stricken 10 people in Argentina, killing three, as health officials scramble to find out what’s causing the malady that includes pneumonia, fever and abdominal pain.

The cluster’s tenth patient, an 81-year-old man, was revealed Friday by the health ministry in Tucumán Province. All 10 have been linked to a private clinic in the provincial city of San Miguel de Tucumán, officials said in multiple statements.

The man, who was a patient at the facility, Luz Médica, was hospitalized in serious condition, the provincial health ministry said in a statement Friday.

The other nine patients include clinic employees who have the illness: a 40-year-old pharmacy assistant who was hospitalized, a 44-year-old nurse being monitored at home, and a 30-year-old nurse, the province’s minister of health, Luis Medina Ruiz, said at a news conference this week.

Three others cases were linked to the outbreak, and those three people are under observation and receiving treatment, the health ministry said.

The three who died had preexisting conditions, or comorbidity, the ministry said. Among the dead was a 70-year-old woman who had gallbladder surgery at the clinic, Ruiz said.

She was at first considered the cluster’s “patient zero,” but her case will undergo further analysis, he said.

Symptoms, which first appeared in six cases related to the facility, developed from Aug. 18 to 23, provincial health officials said. The latest cases included three patients announced Thursday and one announced Friday.

The World Health Organization’s agency for the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization, said Argentina’s Ministry of Health informed it of the initial cluster of six patients on Tuesday.

PAHO said Thursday that hallmarks of the illness include bilateral pneumonia, defined by infection in both lungs, as well as fever, muscle aches, abdominal pain, and difficulty breathing.

Tests for respiratory viruses as well as other viral, bacterial and fungal agents have so far been negative in the first six cases, PAHO said in a statement.

At a news conference this week with Ruiz and other medical professionals, it was announced that initial testing also appeared to rule out Covid-19, Legionella and hantavirus, which can be spread by rodents.

Additional tests, including those that would find noninfectious, potentially drug-related or toxicity fueled causes, were being conducted at a national laboratory run by the Argentinian government, PAHO said.

“We are all on alert about this issue,” Ruiz said.

Isabela Espadas Barros Leal contributed.





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