New secret ailment taints, kills different individuals in Argentina

Three people have died in just a few days after an epidemic of an unknown virus “similar to Covid.”

A person identified as “patient zero” has become the third person to die in Argentina this week due to an unknown ailment that has affected at least nine people. Health officials say it is “quite close” to but not the same as Covid-19. The World Health Organization has declared a “pneumonia of undetermined aetiology” in the country.

All cases of the unexplained type of pneumonia have been linked to a private medical clinic in the northwestern Tucuman province. Symptoms include fever, body aches, vomiting, diarrhoea, and shortness of breath.

Authorities have ruled out covid, flu, influenza type A and B, legionella bacterial illness, and rodent-borne hantavirus. Samples have been submitted to the Malbran Institute in Buenos Aires for further analysis. To discover the cause, tests on the local water supply and air conditioners are being performed. A 70-year-old woman admitted to the clinic for a surgical operation was the third victim of a lung ailment.

Doctors say she may have been “patient zero” for the respiratory illness.

Eight other people who contracted the unknown virus were medical staff at the center. The mystery disease claimed its first victim among workers at the clinic on Monday. A second person died two days later. The BBC reported that both, like 70-year-old women, had other underlying health conditions.

The first six patients started showing symptoms between August 18 and 23. There have been no new cases on Friday. Four of the six people receiving treatment were in serious condition in hospital and two were in isolation at home. All other staff at the clinic were being monitored.

Tucuman’s health minister, Luis Medina Ruiz, stated the patients had “a severe respiratory illness with bilateral pneumonia… quite similar to Covid.”

According to the province health ministry, the outbreak could have been caused by an infectious pathogen, but investigators are not ruling out “toxic or environmental factors.” According to infectious disease specialist Mario Raya, “for the time being, we have no cases outside” the stricken facility.

Hector Sale, president of the Tucuman provincial medical college, told local reporters: “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.

The Pan American Health Organisation is monitoring the situation along with the Argentina health authorities. Professor Paul Huntre of the UK’s University of East Anglia told the BBC that what effect the illness would have is hard to judge at this point. “These things happen from time to time. Often they just fizzle out, but not always. “Sometimes they cause a substantial local outbreak or something even bigger.”

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