ARGENTINA – Argentina’s health authority has confirmed Legionella as the cause of the mysterious pneumonia outbreak in Tucumán province, Argentina.

According to a statement by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a total of 11 cases have been identified, including four deaths in patients with comorbidities till now.

Of the 11 cases at the Argentinian hospital, eight were hospital staff, and three were patients. The hospital reported the first case on August 18.

However, as of August 25, PAHO said there had been no new confirmed cases or secondary cases. Seven of the cases are men, and the median age is 45 years old.  

All four deaths were in patients with comorbidities leading to severe pneumonia.

Legionella bacteria are responsible for causing Legionnaires’ disease, which is a serious type of pneumonia.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Legionella, in particular the bacterium L. pneumophila, is associated with outbreaks of severe pneumonia.

The most common form of transmission is the inhalation of contaminated aerosols produced in conjunction with water sprays, jets, or mists.

Moreover, the infection can also occur by aspiration of contaminated water or ice, particularly in susceptible patients in hospital environments. Treatment includes the administration of antibiotics for several weeks or months.

L. pneumophila-derived diseases are fairly common worldwide, with the CDC reporting nearly 10,000 cases in 2018.

According to a press statement by PAHO, “The Argentina Ministry of Health and the provincial health authorities are working to identify the source and implement appropriate control measures.

They are collecting environmental samples, conducting risk assessments, and implementing actions in the healthcare clinic related to the outbreak.”

An outbreak in France between 2003 and 2004 infected 86 people with L. pneumophila, resulting in 18 deaths.

Researchers discovered the source of the infection stemmed from a cooling tower at a petrochemical plant, infecting people up to six kilometers away from the plant.

Meanwhile, PAHO also stated that it will dispatch a multidisciplinary team of experts this week for surveillance, infection control measures within hospital care, and the identification of the origin of the outbreak at the hospital infrastructure level.

First legionella outbreak reported in 1976

The disease, which first appeared at a 1976 meeting of the American Legion veterans’ group in the US city of Philadelphia, has been linked to contaminated water or unclean air-conditioning systems.

The outbreak infected 221 convention-goers, claiming the lives of 34. Once researchers identified the outbreak’s source as the newly-named legionella bacteria, authorities worldwide worked to establish new safety regulations to limit the spread through man-made infrastructure.

L. pneumophila-derived diseases are fairly common worldwide, with the CDC reporting nearly 10,000 cases in 2018.

The CDC also says legionella-derived diseases often result in mild symptoms, likely resulting in many undiagnosed cases.

Although there is no vaccine to prevent legionella-derived diseases, cases are often treated with antibiotics for several weeks or months.

Once infected, though, the mortality rate is very high, with about one in ten people dying from complications due to pneumonia or other respiratory tract infections.

Legionella bacteria officially caused the mysterious pneumonia outbreak in a hospital in Tucumán, Argentina.

Authorities are working diligently to pinpoint the source of the bacteria while monitoring current cases and infection control measures to prevent a larger outbreak.

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