Mysterious Outbreak of Bilateral Pneumonia in Northern Argentina

A 70-year-old woman who had been admitted for gallbladder surgery also fell ill and died. In a private clinic in the northern city of San Miguel de Tucumán, two healthcare workers, a 45-year-old nurse and a 68-year-old physician, have also died. Authorities in Argentina, specifically in Buenos Aires, are currently investigating an outbreak of bilateral pneumonia of unknown origin that has affected at least eight healthcare workers since August.

During a press briefing on September 1, Dr. Luis Medina Ruiz, the Minister of Public Health of the province of Tucumán, announced that two out of the original six patients are still in critical condition and presently require ventilators. In certain cases, the progression of the illness was more intricate. The majority of the patients exhibited symptoms such as nausea, elevated body temperature, loose stools, and muscular discomfort.

Miguel Ferré Contreras, MD, executive secretary of the Provincial Health System (SIPROSA), pointed out that the legionellosis should be taken into consideration, despite the challenges in culturing and identifying the related bacteria species. He further mentioned that 25 potential causes have been eliminated.

Another hypothesis emerged that leptospirosis could be the cause. In 2019 and 2020, there were recorded cases of nosocomial infection. Two women nurses died. In the first outbreak in Argentina, which occurred in 2013 in the town of Carmen de Areco, two hours west of Buenos Aires, the hospital in Areco identified these characteristics among patients and workers. There has been no confirmation regarding the transmission route involved in the current outbreak. Legionellosis, a disease caused by Legionella bacteria, has two forms, one of which is contracted through the aspiration of contaminated water or the inhalation of aerosolized water containing Legionella species, known as Legionnaire’s disease.

ANLIS (ANLIS) National Malbrán Carlos Dr. Health Institutes and Laboratories Administration had received samples from six initial cases of pneumonia of unknown origin in Tucumán. The purpose was to carry out further diagnostic testing at the national reference center for analyzing infectious diseases.

In addition, provincial and national health authorities are working together to investigate the outbreak, implement specific control measures, and follow up on cases by conducting contact tracing at the facility where the outbreak occurred.

Additional details were provided at a press conference the following day by Ruiz Medina. “We also received some information this morning from our colleagues at Malbrán ANLIS. So far, all the analyses we have conducted have shown the presence of certain strains of Legionella, hantavirus, and COVID-19, which have come back negative for us. We have cultures of bacteria and viruses, as well as urine cultures, sputum cultures, and blood tests, all included in the research protocol. We will continue to press forward with this research in our province.”

“The specific common source and progression of the illness are what we particularly possess,” Medina Ruiz supplemented, “regarding the etiology speculations being presented.”

Four individuals are isolating at home and others are hospitalized. He has comorbidities and is the youngest at 30; the majority of the nurses are present, but there is also an assistant pharmacy as well as another physician.

The op-ed written by psychologist Lucas Posse Haurigot in the newspaper Gaceta La Tucumán reflects on the powerlessness and uncertainty we felt when we came to the realization of planning for the future or having an idea of what the future holds. The fear of infection, surrounding everything during the COVID-19 pandemic, still lingers fresh in our minds. This situation we’re currently living through brings back memories of living in quarantine, and it has given rise to a strong feeling of alarm.