Fungal meningitis outbreaks at cosmetic procedure clinics in Mexico have killed four people from the U.S. and likely infected many more, health officials announced this month.
The deaths were announced after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory last month urging travelers to “practice enhanced precautions” in the area.
Nearly 200 people in the U.S. may have been exposed to the deadly fungal meningitis at two clinics in Matamoros, Mexico, that provided procedures like implants and liposuction, NBC News reported. The exposure probably occurred in patients who underwent epidural anesthesia, health officials say.
The two clinics, River Side Surgical Center and Clinica K-3, were closed on May 13, the CDC said.
The CDC said last week that it was collaborating with the Mexican Ministry of Health and U.S. state and local health departments to respond to the outbreak among patients who traveled to Matamoros, which is across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
Anyone who had procedures under epidural anesthesia in the clinics from Jan. 1 to May 13 could have been exposed and is at risk for fungal meningitis, the CDC warned.
What spread the meningitis?
Morphine used to put patients under during cosmetic procedures could have been contaminated, or the fungus could have spread because medication vials were reused, NBC News reported.
But the exact cause of the outbreak remains unknown.
Dr. Tom Chiller, head of the fungal diseases branch at the CDC, told NBC News that morphine shortages at pharmacies could be to blame.
“There could be some bad actors in that space that are essentially operating sort of a black-market type of morphine business,” he told NBS News.
The CDC said officials were investigating whether any other clinics were involved.
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Four patients from the US have died, CDC says
There have been four confirmed cases of people who got fungal meningitis from their procedure at either of the two clinics in Matamoros, the CDC said last week. Four people have died from the outbreaks, according to CDC investigators.
Patients in the Texas cases started showing symptoms three days to six weeks after surgery in Matamoros, The Associated Press reported.
In all, 179 people are under investigation and could contract fungal meningitis because of their time at one of the two clinics.
Fungal meningitis isn’t spread person to person, the CDC says. It develops after a fungal infection from elsewhere in the body spreads to the brain or spinal cord.
The CDC is urging anyone who went to River Side Surgical Center or Clinica K-3 from Jan. 1 to May 13 and had epidural anesthesia to go to the emergency room and get tested for the fungal infection. Meningitis testing includes an MRI and a lumbar puncture, also called a spinal tap.
What is fungal meningitis?
Meningitis infections occur in the fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord, and cause swelling of the thin tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of fungal meningitis include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and confusion, the CDC says.
It can take weeks for symptoms to develop, and they may be very mild or absent at first. But once symptoms start, they can quickly become severe and life-threatening.
Of the 179 people under investigation in the case, there are 10 probable cases and 14 suspected cases, the CDC says.
The specific fungus found at the two clinics appears to be Fusarium solani, according to lab tests conducted for the CDC.
Experts are worried because a similar outbreak in Mexico last year caused by Fusarium solani had a 50% mortality rate, NBC News reported.
Contributing: Associated Press