Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Leaves 2 Dead, Over 500 At Risk, Linked To Mexico Clinics

People who’ve traveled this year to two clinics in Matamoros, Mexico, to get Brazilian butt lifts, breast implants, liposuction, and other such cosmetic surgery procedures seem to have been getting something else as well. And while this thing may have “fun” in its name, fungal meningitis is anything but. Two of these people who had traveled from the U.S. have already died, most likely from this bad, bad infection. Add to that 11 more probable cases of fungal meningitis and 12 more suspected cases that have been detected in the U.S. so far and this qualifies as a full-blown outbreak. It could even become a public health emergency of international concern.

There’s already been a number of concerns. Hundreds of them, in fact. The Mexican Ministry of Health has provided the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with a list of 221 people spanning 24 states and jurisdictions in the U.S. who have been considered at risk. Each of these 221 people had undergone surgical procedures at either the River Side Surgical Center or Clinica K-3 in Matamoros from January 1 through May 13, 2023, according to the CDC. There was a strong female-skew among these patients with 205 of them being women compared to 16 being men. There’s also been a Millennial skew with the median age being 32 years, as mentioned in the following webinar broadcast on May 26:

Those from the U.S. haven’t been the folks getting their butts lifted, their breasts implanted, their lipo sucked, and other plastic surgery procedures at these two clinics. Folks from Mexico, Canada and Colombia have partaken as well. So far, the Mexican Ministry of Health has identified a total of 547 people at risk, based on a May 25 press release.

Not surprisingly, both clinics were closed on May 13. After all, “come here and you may or may not get fungal meningitis” and “breasts aren’t the only thing that may get implanted” would not be great marketing slogans for these clinics. Fungal meningitis is when some type of fungus reaches the membranes that wrap around your brain—sort of like Saran wrap around a knish—and cause these membranes to become inflamed. Normally, unless you are a giant mushroom, you aren’t supposed to supposed to have any type of fungus on the brain. But it looks when patients received epidural anesthesia either the devices used to inject the anesthesia or the anesthetic substances themselves may have been contaminated with fungus. Epidural anesthesia is when you have pain-blocking agents injected directly into your spinal column. All but six of the 221 patients in the U.S. had received epidural anesthesia.

It’s not yet clear what specific organism or organism may be the culprit in this outbreak. It’s believed to be a fungus since doctors have found elevated levels of the fungal biomarker (1,3)-beta-D-glucan in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood of several patients affected by the outbreak. The Mexican national laboratory (InDRE) has found evidence of the fungus Fusarium solani in the CSF of four patients in Mexico. But as is the case with choosing a significant other, identifying the cause of an outbreak requires more than one piece of evidence. Authorities will need to find more evidence before saying that Fusarium solani is definitely “the One.”

Now, if you have recently traveled to either of those clinics to get an uplifting experience in your butt of some other procedure, see your medical doctor—a real medical doctor—as soon as possible. The doctor should order a lumbar puncture (LP)—which is a spinal tap—and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of your brain to check for the presence of a fungal infection and meningitis, regardless of whether you already have any symptoms. Symptoms may not emerge until weeks after your CSF has been exposure to fungus. Once symptoms like a fever, headaches, sensitivity to light, a stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, confusion, or loss of consciousness appear you may not have enough time to get proper treatment and not, you know, die. Naturally, if you already do have such symptoms, seek emergency medical care. Don’t say, “I’m feeling rather confused right now and vomiting. But let’s continue with the date as it may be love.”

Of course, if you are scheduled for a procedure at one of these two clinics in Matamoros, cancel the procedure. It’s worth the risk of fungal meningitis is something that you should never ever say. You never want to get surgical procedures at a place that’s been the source of an infectious disease outbreak until the emergency has passed and the all-clear sign has been given by authorities.

Who thinks that this outbreak should be considered an emergency? Well, health authorities in both the U.S. and Mexico want the World Health Organization (WHO) to consider it so. They’ve asked the WHO to declare this outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, otherwise known as a PHEIC. If you are wondering, “What the PHEIC are they doing that for,” it’s to get more international collaboration and funding to help respond to this outbreak.

This doesn’t mean that this fungal meningitis outbreak is of the same magnitude as the Covid-19 pandemic, which was considered a PHEIC from January 2020 to May 2023. Fungal meningitis can’t directly spread from person to person. So unless you underwent procedures at the two clinics, you are not going to be at risk of getting infected by whatever organism is causing this outbreak.

Nevertheless, this outbreak could have wide-spanning effects. Anyone who pays taxes and for health insurance may have to bear the cost of this outbreak. Plus, with the U.S. healthcare system becoming more and more of a hot mess with each passing year, medical tourism—Americans going to other countries for surgical procedures and other types of healthcare—has continued to grow. Before you do opt to get a surgical procedure in another country, make sure that you are fully aware of what infection prevention and control precautions are being taken at your clinic or hospital of choice. Otherwise, you could end up having a life-threatening complication when all you wanted was your butt lifted. In other words, life in plastics is not always fantastic.

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