Argentina's Health Minister Carla Vizzotti, pictured in September 2021, said Legionnaires' has been identified as the underlying cause of double pneumonia in four people

Argentina’s health ministry links four deaths to Legionnaires’ disease

Argentine Health Minister Carla Vizzotti, pictured in September 2021, said Legionnaires were identified as the main cause of bilateral pneumonia in four people – Copyright AFP OLEKSANDR GIMANOV

Argentina’s health officials said on Saturday that four people at a clinic in northwestern Tucumán province had died from Legionnaires’ disease, a relatively rare bacterial infection of the lungs.

Health Minister Carla Vizzotti told reporters that Legionnaires were identified as the main cause of bilateral pneumonia in four who suffered from high fever, body aches and difficulty breathing.

The deaths, all since Monday, have occurred at a clinic in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán.

The latter, on Saturday morning, was in a 48-year-old man with underlying health problems. The victim was also a 70-year-old woman who underwent surgery at the clinic.

Seven more symptomatic cases have been identified, all from the same facility and nearly all with clinic staff, provincial officials said.

Of those seven, “four remain in hospital, three are under respiratory support, and three are under home observation with less complex clinical symptoms,” provincial health minister Luis Medina Ruiz said Saturday.

The disease, which first surfaced at a 1976 American Legion veterans’ group meeting in Philadelphia, US, was associated with contaminated water or dirty air conditioning systems.

When the outbreak in Tucumán was first identified, doctors tested the victims for Covid-19, flu and hantavirus, but ruled them all out.

The samples were then sent to the prestigious Malbrand Institute in Buenos Aires. The tests there pointed to Legionnaires.

On Wednesday, Medina Ruiz said “toxic and environmental causes” could not be ruled out. He noted that the clinic’s climate control systems are being tested.

Vizzotti said authorities are working to keep the clinic safe for patients and staff.

Hector Sale, president of the Tucuman Provincial College of Medicine, earlier this week described the bacterial infection as “aggressive”.

But he added that it does not normally spread from person to person, and that none of the 11 infected people had symptoms through close contact.

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