Study 'Really Rings the Alarm' About Medical Tourism Risks

12 Americans who had surgery at clinics in Mexico died in meningitis outbreak last year
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 14, 2024 1:40 PM CST
Study 'Really Rings the Alarm' About Medical Tourism Risks
"The longer you have an infection, then the worse that infection has the potential to get," Byrd says.   (Getty Images)

Researchers say a study of a fungal meningitis outbreak that killed a dozen Americans last year "really rings the alarm" about the risks of medical tourism. The patients had all undergone cosmetic procedures, including liposuction and breast implants, at clinics in Matamoros, Mexico. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers say the Fusarium solari fungus was introduced to patients' spinal canals during an epidural, with devastating results. Spinal fluid carried the fungus to the brain stem, where it aggressively attacked blood vessels, causing strokes and hemorrhages, the Washington Post reports.

"What we ended up seeing is, literally, this fungus eating through blood vessels and causing clotting as well," says study co-author Luis Ostrosky, division director of infectious diseases at UTHealth Houston. Researchers say the fungus is commonly found in the environment and doesn't usually infect young, healthy people like the Matamoros patients, but it can be deadly when it's injected directly into the spine. CDC epidemiologist Dallas Smith, a study co-author, says the fungal strain is resistant to current drugs, though six other patients survived after they were given an experimental antifungal drug, NBC News reports.

Smith says the CDC believes the morphine mixed with the anesthesia was probably contaminated. He says there's a shortage of anesthesia in Mexico, and an anesthesiologist who worked at both clinics linked to the outbreak probably bought it on the black market, reports NBC. Katrina Byrd, another CDC epidemiologist, tells the Post that early treatment for infections is vital, but some patients with symptoms like headaches weren't sure if they should seek medical help. The "take-home message" she says, "is as soon as you get back, even if you don't have symptoms, please tell someone you traveled and that you received a procedure outside the United States." (More meningitis stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.