Four American patients have died and nearly two dozen others contracted fungal meningitis tied to cosmetic operations in two Mexico medical facilities.
Public health experts are scrambling to identify and test anyone at risk, but almost 200 Americans may have been exposed to the fatal sickness at the clinics. The River Side Surgical Centre and Clinica K-3 in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, are two Centers for Disease Control and Prevention facilities linked to the outbreak.
According to the CDC, patients who visited the clinics between January 1 and May 13, 2023, may have become infected while undergoing treatments like liposuction or breast augmentation that needed epidural anesthesia. Since then, the clinics have closed.
As of June 14, there have been six confirmed cases and four deaths, along with 18 suspected cases and 172 individuals under investigation.
Less than half of the Americans who may have been exposed before the clinics were closed, according to Tom Chiller, director of the CDC's fungal diseases section, have been contacted by authorities.
Chiller said it has been challenging to track down patients from the clinics because some people provided false names and phone numbers or the information needed to be entered correctly.
"We're being very aggressive and telling people to go in, yet we're getting some hesitation on people that are asymptomatic. This is a serious illness, and it can manifest late, so you may not feel anything right now."- Chiller
In the present outbreak of illness, symptoms started to show up roughly 18 days to a month after having surgery in the facility. All patients received epidural anesthesia, which blocks pain signals in specific body areas by injecting numbing drugs into select spinal regions.
Nearly all 23 Hidalgo County residents who underwent surgery at one of the clinics were contacted by Ivan Melendez, the county's health authority, who has had more experience finding at-risk patients. His concern is that, even among local physicians, the illness is not being taken seriously.
"When patients went to the emergency departments [to get tested], they were turned away because the doctors said you don't have any symptoms, you can't have meningitis," says Melendez.
He has spoken to several individuals reluctant to undergo the necessary testing due to financial concerns. According to Melendez, just seven of the 23 have undergone the required testing.
The cause of the epidemic is not yet fully understood, but it is possible that doctors used alternative methods to get medicine due to morphine shortages or poor sanitation practices. Chiller claims that the problem is that the medical staff at these clinics needs access to a pharmacy that stocks prescription medications.
Some symptoms of fungal meningitis are fever, nausea, headache, and photophobia. Numerous fungi, including Cryptococcus, Candida, Histoplasma, and Coccidioides, can all cause fungal meningitis. Typically, acquiring fungus-related meningitis involves breathing in fungus spores from the environment, and it is impossible to spread fungus-related meningitis from one individual to another.
Per the CDC, beginning treatment in the early stages may heighten the chance of survival.
He concludes: "It's critical, whether you're symptomatic or not, if you've been exposed to epidural anesthesia in one of these clinics, you get evaluated. We're going to treat aggressively because we know for a fact that early treatment is what saves lives."