The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel alert and health advisory after U.S. residents who underwent surgical procedures in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, were diagnosed with suspected fungal meningitis.
In an advisory issued on Wednesday, the CDC said that as of May 12, five patients who traveled to the border city opposite Brownsville, Texas, had been diagnosed with suspected fungal meningitis, an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The CDC said that all the patients have been hospitalized and one has died.
“All these patients received epidural anesthesia and underwent cosmetic procedures [including liposuction]. Affected patients underwent procedures in at least two clinics in Matamoros, Mexico, including River Side Surgical Center and Clínica K-3. Other facilities might be identified through further investigation,” the public health agency said.
In its level 2 “practice enhanced precautions” alert, the CDC advised anyone who underwent a procedure involving an epidural injection of an anesthetic in Matamoros any time since Jan. 1, 2023, to monitor themselves for symptoms of meningitis, which include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion and sensitivity to light.
Anyone who experiences any of those symptoms after having a procedure in Matamoros should “go to a hospital emergency department immediately and tell them about your procedure and where you traveled,” the CDC said.
The Texas Department of State Health Service issued a similar alert, in which it noted that “all five patients traveled from Texas to Matamoros to get surgical procedures.”
The cause of the suspected meningitis cases has not yet been established.
The Tamaulipas government has shut down the two clinics identified by the CDC and authorities are investigating them for “presumed irregularities” that have placed patients’ health at risk, according to a government statement published Wednesday.
State Health Minister Vicente Joel Hernández Navarro said that authorities are seeking to contact 168 people who underwent procedures at the two clinics and may have contracted fungal meningitis. However, authorities believe that as many as 400 people could be at risk.
“Health authorities in the United States and Mexico are investigating the cause of the infections,” Hernández said.
Citing Health Ministry sources, the news website Elefante Blanco reported that an anesthesiologist who worked at both the River Side Surgical Center and Clínica K-3 is under investigation.
Mexico is a popular medical tourism destination due the lower prices on offer for many common procedures and the generally high standard of care. Northern border cities are particular popular with people who live in southern U.S. states.
The detection of suspected meningitis cases among people who underwent surgical procedures in Matamoros comes after an outbreak of the same illness in Durango last year.
A total of 79 patients – mainly women who had recently given birth – who had been given spinal anesthetics at private hospitals in Durango city were infected, and 35 died.
An anesthesiologist, the former head of Durango health regulator Coprised and an employee of that organization were arrested in February in connection with the deadly outbreak and ordered to stand trial.
Durango Attorney General Sonia de la Garza alleged that the anesthesiologist used contaminated medication and “improper procedures” in administering spinal blocks to patients.