US health bosses are calling for a deadly fungal outbreak linked to cut-price plastic surgeries in Mexico to be declared an international health emergency.
So far, two Texan patients have died from the fungal brain infection, which doctors believe was contracted from unsterilized equipment south of the border after they had the discounted plastic surgeries.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is monitoring the condition of 195 more people who were given epidural anesthesia (injection into the spine to numb part of the body) during plastic surgeries carried out since January.
But hundreds more may have been affected due to Mexico’s booming medical tourism industry, which sees around 1.2million Americans travel south for affordable care each year, and an even greater number of international patients.
The CDC and its equivalent in Mexico have asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the situation a health emergency, which could see the global agency deploy resources to track and isolate cases, quarantine contacts and screen passengers at the border.
Two Texans have died after receiving cosmetic surgery including liposuction in Mexico. Health officials say the women received treatment at clinics in Matamoros, Mexico, including River Side Surgical Center (left) and Clinica K-3 (right)
The above map shows the location of Matamoros, where the procedures took place. People are being urged not to go there for plastic surgeries
Recruiters lured hundreds of patients from across the world and 24 US states to the River Side Surgical Center and Clinica K-3 in Mexico, both of which have now been closed, for procedures like liposuction, breast augmentation or Brazilian butt lifts.
Fourteen of the cases are suspected fungal meningitis — infections of the brain and spinal cord — and 11 are probable.
The patients reported symptoms including headaches, fever, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and sensitivity to light.
The infection causes swelling of the protective lining around the brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges.
Once symptoms kick in, meningitis can rapidly become life-threatening, warned the CDC.
Test results from Mexican authorities have set off worries that a deadly fungal outbreak connected to clinics elsewhere in Mexico which happened earlier in the year will be repeated. Almost half of all patients diagnosed with meningitis died in that outbreak.
A WHO committee would need to be set up to potentially declare a public health emergency of international concern.
This occurs if the event is unusual, has a significant public health impact and poses a risk of international spread and travel restrictions.
If declared, the Director-General issues a set of recommendations to countries, which could include increased surveillance to identify new cases, isolation of cases and quarantining of contacts, and measures at borders, airports, ports or points of entry for screening.
Some 1.2million US residents travel to Mexico annually to undergo elective surgery at a discount, according to Medical Tourism Mexico, which advertises that patients can save up to 80% on a comparable procedure in the US
The CDC urged anyone with a treatment booked in Matamoros that involved an epidural injection to cancel the procedure.
The agency added that those who got treatment there since January should watch for warning signs of meningitis.
All but 17 of the people being monitored by the CDC are living in Texas, and the majority are female.
One of the two patients who died was also an organ donor, putting five different recipients around the country at risk.
The CDC’s Dallas Smith told a webinar Friday hosted by the Mycoses Study Group: ‘All have been notified and are under evaluation, and we were working with transplant centers and other partners to properly manage these patients who had these organs transplanted into their bodies.’
It is unclear what type of fungus patients are infected with, but testing in Mexico has shown positive results for a fungus called Fusarium solani in samples of spinal cord fluid.
This fungus caused a deadly outbreak also linked to plastic surgeries last year in the Mexican state of Durango.
Dr Smith said: ‘We are not sure if these two outbreaks are linked, but the fact that the same organism is most likely causing this fungal meningitis makes us worried about a high mortality rate.
‘So that’s why it’s so important to get patients in early, even if they’re asymptomatic.’
Medication given to patients during an epidural may have been contaminated, or in other drugs such as morphine.
Dr Smith added: ‘There’s a shortage currently in Mexico, and there could be potential for a black market that could have contaminated medicine.’
Another explanation could be possible poor infection control practices at the clinics.
A total of 221 US patients who visited clinics are at risk, health authorities in Mexico said.
Officials are trying to contact anyone who has visited the clinics since January to urge them to get tested, saying it can take more than six weeks for symptoms to appear.
All the patients had gone for cosmetic surgeries including liposuction, where fat is removed from areas of the body, between January and May 13.