A person believed to be “patient zero” has become the third person to die in Argentina this week from a mystery illness that has so far affected at least nine people.
Health authorities have stated it is “very similar” to but not Covid-19.
The World Health Organisation has said it is monitoring a “pneumonia of unknown origin” in the nation.
All cases of the unexplained type of pneumonia have been linked to a private medical clinic in the northwestern Tucuman province. The symptoms include fever, body aches, vomiting, diarrhoea, and shortness of breath.
Authorities say they have ruled out Covid, flu, influenza types A and B, the legionella bacterial disease and the hantavirus spread by rodents. Samples have been sent to the Malbran Institute in the capital Buenos Aires for further investigation.
Tests on the local water supply and air conditioners are also being carried out in a bid to determine the cause.
The third victim to die from the lung condition was a 70-year-old woman who had been admitted to the clinic for a surgical procedure.
Doctors say she may have been “patient zero” for the respiratory illness.
The eight other people who contracted the unknown virus were medical staff at the centre.
The mystery disease claimed its first victim among workers at the clinic on Monday. A second person died two days later. Both, like the 70-year-old woman, had other underlying health conditions, the BBC reported.
The first six patients started showing symptoms between August 18 and 23.
There have been no new cases on Friday.
Of the six people receiving treatment, four were in serious condition in hospital and two were in isolation at home. All other staff at the clinic were being monitored.
Tucuman health Minister Luis Medina Ruiz said on Wednesday the patients were struck with “a severe respiratory condition with bilateral pneumonia … very similar to Covid”.
The provincial health ministry said Wednesday the outbreak could have come from an infectious agent, but investigators were not excluding “toxic or environmental causes.” Infectious disease specialist Mario Raya said Thursday that “for the moment, we have no cases outside” the stricken clinic.
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.”
– With AFP
Originally published as New mystery illness infects, kills multiple people in Argentina