MATAMOROS, TAMAULIPAS.- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel advisory after some U.S. residents were diagnosed with suspected fungal meningitis infections following medical or surgical procedures in Mexico.
The infections were contracted after procedures in Matamoros, which is located on the Texas border, and have led to serious illness and death, the agency said. The Level 2 advisory urged travelers to “practice enhanced precautions.”
The Texas Department of State Health Services also issued an alert Tuesday and said an investigation had identified at least five patients. One has died, while four are hospitalized, according to a news release.
“Travelers with these infections had medical or surgical procedures (including liposuction) that involved injection of an anesthetic into the area around the spinal column (i.e., epidural) performed at clinics in Matamoros, including River Side Surgical Center and Clinica K-3,” the CDC said.
The two clinics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The CDC urged travelers who have had procedures in Matamoros that involved an epidural infection of an anesthetic since Jan. 1 to monitor themselves for symptoms and to consider seeking medical advice. Those who experience symptoms should “immediately” go to a hospital emergency department, the CDC said.
The symptoms of fungal meningitis include fever, stiff neck, headache, confusion, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. While anyone can contract it, the infection is not contagious and can be treated with IV and oral medications. People with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of infection.
“Cancel any procedure that involves an epidural injection of an anesthetic in Matamoros, Mexico, until there is evidence that there is no longer a risk for infection at these clinics,” the agency added.
Travel from the U.S. to Mexico for medical care is common.
“Medical tourism has been a very big part of the border communities for many, many, many years,” Ricardo Ainslie, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and director of research and education at the health care partnership AMPATH Mexico declared in March. “It’s primarily driven by the fact that it’s easy to get appointments and that it’s much less expensive.”
Medical tourism can be risky, and various factors can increase the chance of complications, including varying quality of care and difficulty communicating through language barriers, according to the CDC. The agency recommends taking steps such as researching the healthcare providers and facilities ahead of time and purchasing travel health insurance that covers medical evacuation.
The Mexican state of Durango suffered an epidemic of fungal meningitis three months ago.