Fears for Welsh in Patagonia as Hantavirus kills nine
Welsh tourists in Patagonia have been warned to take precautions after an incurable virus killed nine people.
Hantavirus is usually transmitted by rodents but health officials believe, unlike other strains, this outbreak is communicable between humans.
Argentinian press estimate there are about 60 cases, with 50 in quarantine.
The outbreak began in Epuyen, a small lakeside town to the north of Esquel, the largest Welsh-founded town in the Western Andean area of Welsh Patagonia.
Government officials in Chubut have warned tourists from Wales to take precautions if they visit the region, especially if flu-like symptoms appear within one or two weeks of their visit.
Hantavirus can cause a serious lung condition and problems with the blood vessels, leading to respiratory distress, heart failure and death.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it has a mortality rate of 38% and there is no "specific treatment" for the disease.
Huw Llewellyn-Jones, whose friend is travelling in Patagonia, said: "[She] will not now visit the Welsh towns in the Andes region because of all the uncertainty relating to this horrible outbreak.
"She is heading for the Atlantic coast to be away from this, but is still concerned that it may spread to Madryn and Trelew because it seems to be spread by human contact.
"Everyone is on holiday at present and many people are travelling in and out of the area."
The Epuyén authorities and the Malbrán Institute in Buenos Aires, which is analysing the possible causes of the virus, believe the outbreak began when an unknowingly infected farm worker greeted his friends with a kiss at a birthday party.
The first fatal victim was the birthday girl herself - who had just turned 14.
Six other people who had attended the party also died.
Public festivals in three towns have been cancelled, but there are no major Welsh festivals in the Andes region in January or February.
Esquel is providing hospital and intensive care facilities to nearby areas.
Health authorities are seeking legal permission for isolation in infected cases to be compulsory, and advised people to avoid sheds, orchards or pastures.