Suspected deadly fungal infections linked to surgery in Mexico

The border crossing from Texas into Matamoros, Mexico. (Sergio Flores/AFP/Getty Images)

Federal and Texas health officials are alerting Americans and clinicians about suspected cases of fungal meningitis among U.S. residents who traveled to Matamoros, Mexico, for surgery. At least four patients are hospitalized, and one person has died, Texas officials said Tuesday.

All five patients traveled from Texas to the border city of Matamoros to get surgical procedures that involved an epidural, which is an anesthetic injected into the area around the spinal column. The patients are women in their 30s to 50s. The procedures - all cosmetic - took place between February and April. Symptoms began three days to six weeks after surgery, said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Subscribe to The Post Most newsletter for the most important and interesting stories from The Washington Post.

Authorities in the United States and Mexico are investigating the source of the infections, whether the cases are linked and whether there are more cases that have not yet been reported.

There is a booming medical-tourism business south of the U.S. border, where dental procedures, cosmetic surgeries, fertility treatments and even veterinary care are typically less expensive than those in the United States. Matamoros is the site of the attack in March on four Americans that resulted in two deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel advisory urging enhanced precautions for travelers to Mexico. The agency said travelers with these fungal infections had medical or surgical procedures, including liposuction, at clinics in Matamoros, including River Side Surgical Center and Clinica K-3.

Meningitis is swelling of the protective covering of the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or trauma. Common symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion and sensitivity to light.

Fungal meningitis is not contagious, but it can develop after a fungal infection is accidentally introduced during a medical or surgical procedure or spreads from somewhere else in the body to the brain or the spinal cord. The CDC is expected to contact physicians across the country to inform them of the known cases, to advise them to be on the lookout for additional cases and to offer guidance on managing potential cases.

"It is very important that people who have recently had medical procedures in Mexico monitor themselves for symptoms of meningitis," Jennifer Shuford, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said in a statement. "Meningitis, especially when caused by bacteria or fungus, can be a life-threatening illness unless treated promptly."

Health officials in Texas said people should consider canceling or postponing any elective surgeries, including liposuction, involving epidural anesthesia in Matamoros until there is evidence that those procedures do not pose a significant risk of infection. In a news release, Texas officials are urging residents who had surgery involving an epidural in Matamoros at any time in 2023 to contact a doctor and tell them about the risk of fungal infection, and to seek care if they develop meningitis symptoms.

There are millions of fungal species, but only a few hundred of them can make people sick. Fungi can cause many different types of illnesses, including asthma or allergies, rashes, infections of the skin and nails, lung infections (pneumonia), bloodstream infections and meningitis.

Although anyone can get fungal meningitis, people with weakened immune systems are at increased risk. Certain health conditions, medications and surgical procedures may weaken the immune system.


Related Content

In Black-led Compton, a Latino majority fights for political power

End of a love affair: AM radio is being removed from many cars

Forget Uber Eats. Modern-day homesteaders prefer to live off the land.