Disease outbreak mystery: Death toll and infections rise from unexplained pneumonia cases

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Five people are also in hospital in Argentina with the mystery illness, which doctors have ruled out as being Covid, influenza and hantavirus. Nine people in the same private clinic unit reportedly contracted the unknown illness so far, the Ministry of Health in Tucumán has said. Tucumán is a small region 800 miles away from the Argentinian capital city Buenos Aires.

Tucuman Health Minister Luis Medina Ruiz said eight medical staff at the private clinic have been diagnosed with the mystery respiratory sickness, which could imply that the disease is infectious.

Officials are currently studying the origin of the outbreak, which is said to have symptoms including vomiting, a high fever and diarrhoea.

Samples from infected patients have been sent to the Malbran Institute in Buenos Aires for further analysis.

According to Mr Ruiz, the latest death was a 70-year-old woman who had undergone surgery at the clinic, and is understood to be viewed as “patient zero”.

“Patient zero” refers to the first known person to become infected with a new disease amid an outbreak.

The symptoms of the illness were first recorded in six people between August 18 and 22, but since then three more people have become infected.

Two of those hospitalised since August 22 reportedly require mechanical respiratory assistance and in are in serious condition, the health minister said.

The third is reportedly being monitored at home.

That leaves six people in total currently being treated, with four said to be in serious condition while two are in isolation at home.

Mr Ruiz told local media on Wednesday: “What these patients have in common is the severe respiratory condition with bilateral pneumonia and compromise in [x-ray] images very similar to Covid, but that is ruled out.”

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While no virus has been identified so far, toxic or environmental causes have not yet been excluded.

Mr Ruiz said: “We are all on alert about this issue.

“We are releasing guides to public and private intensive care units for the possible appearance of a patient with these characteristics, especially to make a proper diagnosis with all the necessary protocols and PPE, as recommended with all patients with respiratory conditions.”

Hector Sale, president of the Tucuman provincial medical college said there has been no solid proof of person-to-person transmission given no cases have had close contact with any patients.

He said: “We are not dealing with a disease that causes person-to-person transmission.”

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Infectious disease specialist Mario Raya said that “for the moment, we have no cases outside” the clinic where the outbreak is contained.

Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global health at Edinburgh University, told The Telegraph: “It’s obviously concerning but we still need key information on transmission and hopefully (on the) underlying cause.

“This shows our collective vulnerability to dangerous pathogens. An outbreak in any part of the world – if not quickly contained – can spread rapidly given air travel and trade.”

Both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) are now monitoring the outbreak.



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