A disease that has affected 11 people in Argentina and killed four may be the result of Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, health officials said Saturday.
Officials have been trying to determine what caused the illness that sickened 11 people who were affiliated with a private clinic in the town of San Miguel de Tucumán, about 970 miles north of Buenos Aires.
On Saturday, health officials said Legionella bacteria were identified in tests of four samples — three respiratory ones and a biopsy from one of the people who died.
“It is suspected to be an outbreak of Legionella pneumophila,” said Dr. Carla Vizzotti, the country’s health minister, said in a statement.
The data is still preliminary and pending the definitive diagnosis, Vizzotti added.
The Legionella bacteria can be transmitted when people inhale tiny droplets of water or accidentally swallow water containing the bacteria in the lungs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a serious form of pneumonia.
Among the 11 patients associated with the Luz Médica clinic are three people who were under observation and being treated; a 64-year-old male with pre-existing conditions, or comorbidities, who was hospitalized in serious condition; and an 81-year-old man who was also hospitalized in serious condition, the health ministry of Tucumán province said in press releases.
Three clinic employees also contracted the disease: a 40-year-old pharmacy assistant who was hospitalized, a 44-year-old nurse who was monitored at home and a 30-year-old nurse, said Luis Medina Ruiz, the provincial health minister. at a press conference this week.
The health ministry of Tucumán province said on Saturday that a fourth death has been linked to the cluster. The deceased was described as a 48-year-old man with co-morbidities who had been hospitalized in serious condition, the ministry said in a statement.
The three other people who died also had pre-existing conditions, the ministry said.
One of the deceased was a 70-year-old woman who had undergone gallbladder surgery at the clinic. She was initially considered the “patient zero” of the cluster, but her case will be analyzed further, Ruiz said.
The Legionella bacteria can be transmitted when people inhale tiny droplets of water or accidentally swallow water containing the bacteria in the lungs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a serious form of pneumonia.
Symptoms, which first appeared in six cases related to the facility, developed from Aug. 18 to 23, provincial health officials said. The latest cases include three patients announced Thursday, one announced Friday and the other announced Saturday.
The World Health Organization for America agency, the Pan American Health Organization, said Argentina’s health ministry had notified it on Tuesday of the first cluster of six patients.
PAHO said on Thursday that features of the then-mysterious 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 and other viral, bacterial and fungal agents have so far been negative in the first six cases, PAHO said in a statement Thursday.
At a press conference earlier this week with Ruiz and other medical professionals, it was announced that the initial tests also appeared to rule out Covid-19, Legionella and hantavirus, which can be spread by rodents.
Additional tests, including tests that would find non-infectious, potentially drug-related or toxicity-induced causes, were conducted at a national laboratory of the Argentine government, PAHO said.