Cause of Mysterious Pneumonia Cluster Found

Argentina outbreak was initially feared to be possible new pathogen
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2022 12:46 PM CDT
Cause of Mysterious Pneumonia Cluster Found
This undated image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a large grouping of Legionella pneumophila bacteria (Legionnaires' disease).   (Janice Haney Carr/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

The cause of a mysterious cluster of pneumonia cases in northwest Argentina has been identified as legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's disease, reports CNN. The Pan American Health Organization said in a statement that Argentina's health ministry has confirmed legionella as the cause of the outbreak in Tucuman province. Authorities say all 11 cases identified so far have been linked to the same private health clinic. Eight of the infected people—and three of the four people who died—were clinic employees. Authorities said last week that the symptoms were similar to severe COVID-19, but patients had tested negative for that disease and common types of flu.

The outbreak raised concerns because the COVID-19 pandemic began with similar reports of patients, including health care workers, suffering severe pneumonia with an unknown cause. Authorities described the illness as a "severe respiratory condition with bilateral pneumonia," with symptoms including high fevers and body aches. "It is too early to comment on whether this represents a threat to a wider population or remains restricted to the institution, or whether it might be caused by a new pathogen or one we already know about," Prof. Beate Kampmann from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told the BBC last week.

Legionella is "associated with outbreaks of severe pneumonia," the PAHO said in a statement. "The most common form of transmission is inhalation of contaminated aerosols produced in conjunction with water sprays, jets, or mists." The organization said the health ministry is "collecting environmental samples, conducting risk assessments, and implementing actions in the healthcare clinic related to the outbreak." (Read more Argentina stories.)

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