In this handout photo from the Ministry of Health of the Argentine province of Tucumán, Provincial Health Minister Luis Medina Ruiz (right) announces the death of a third person from pneumonia of unknown origin – Copyright AFP/File Stefani Reynolds
A third person died of pneumonia of unknown origin in Argentina this week, with deaths so far limited to one clinic, health authorities said on Thursday.
Tucumán Health Minister Luis Medina Ruiz told reporters that nine people in the northwestern province of Tucumán have contracted a mysterious respiratory illness, including eight medical workers at a private clinic.
Since Monday, three people have died – two medical workers, and now also a patient of the clinic.
Authorities are conducting tests, but Medina said they have already ruled out Covid-19, influenza, flu types A and B, bacterial Legionella disease and hantavirus spread by rodents.
The samples were sent to the Malbrand Institute in Buenos Aires.
The latest victim was a 70-year-old woman who was admitted to a clinic for surgery.
Medina said the woman could have been “Patient Zero, but it’s being evaluated.”
The mysterious disease claimed its first victim among the clinic’s medical staff on Monday, and its second two days later.
The first six patients began to show symptoms between 18 and 23 August.
Medina said on Wednesday the patients had “a severe respiratory illness with bilateral pneumonia… very similar to Covid.”
Symptoms included vomiting, high fever, diarrhea, and body aches.
Of the six people receiving treatment, four are in hospital in serious condition, two are in isolation at home.
All other clinic staff are under observation.
Experts tested water and air conditioners for possible contamination or poisoning.
The provincial health ministry said on Wednesday that the outbreak may have been caused by an infectious agent, but investigators are not ruling out “toxic or environmental causes.”
Infectious disease specialist Mario Raya said on Thursday that “at the moment we have no cases outside” the affected clinic.
Hector Sale, president of Tucumana Provincial College of Medicine, added: “We are not dealing with a disease that causes person-to-person transmission” as no cases have been identified among close contacts of any of the patients.