A view of one of the medical clinics suspended by Mexican health authorities in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: More than 200 American patients could be at risk of fungal meningitis after having surgical procedures at clinics in a Mexico border city, according to the latest warning of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC has said that it was working with the Mexican Ministry of Health and local and state officials to respond to an outbreak linked to patients who underwent procedures under epidural anesthesia in Matamoros, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, reports said.

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Officials had identified two clinics associated with the outbreak, River Side Surgical Centre and Clinica K-3. These clinics were closed on May 13.

The CDC is working with 25 state and local health departments to contact people in the US with potential exposure and advise them to go to their nearest health centre, urgent care, or emergency room for diagnostic testing for meningitis.

2 Americans dead

On Friday, a Reuters report quoting authorities said two US citizens died after contracting meningitis while getting treatment in a hospital in the northern Mexican border city of Matamorosand that they investigated some 400 suspected cases.

“A contamination caused these deaths,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said when asked about reports of 10 deaths and 300-400 people being possibly affected by a contamination in hospitals at Matamoros.

Medication used for anesthesia in plastic surgeries got contaminated and was used at two private hospitals, said Lopez Obrador, who acknowledged deaths occurred without specifying how many.

A spokesperson for the US embassy in Mexico confirmed two American citizens died in Matamoros, without specifying when or where.

Tamaulipas state’s Health Minister Vicente Joel Hernandez said later in an interview there were five confirmed cases of meningitis in Matamoros and noted the fungus transmitting it somehow contaminated the anesthesia used in hospitals.

Hernandez said earlier in May his administration had been investigating 400 possible cases.

The CDC issued on May 17 a health travel notice after some US residents returning from Matamoros were diagnosed with suspected fungal meningitis infections, which have led to severe illness and death, according to a statement published on the embassy’s web page.

Public health emergency

A BBC report said the authorities in the US and Mexico are now urging the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare a public health emergency over the fungal outbreak.

Authorities in both the US and Mexico have urged people who had surgeries involving epidural anaesthesia at either the River Side Surgical Center or Clinica K-3 since January to get evaluated, even if they are currently asymptomatic.

The CDC said it had already identified 25 people in the US with “suspected” or “probable” cases of fungal meningitis.

Many Americans travel to US
Many US citizens travel to Mexico for cosmetic procedures such as liposuction, breast augmentation and Brazilian butt lifts, which all require the injection of an anaesthetic into the area around the spinal column.

The CDC’s Dallas Smith said that medications used during anaesthesia in the current outbreak may have been contaminated either in the epidural itself or in other medications that are added in conjunction during the surgeries like morphine.

“There’s a shortage currently in Mexico, and there could be potential for a black market that could have contaminated medicine,” Smith was quoted as saying by BBC.

Last October, a batch of a local anaesthetic commonly used for operations such as Caesarean births was found to have been infected by the same fungus, leading to the death of 39 people in the Mexican state of Durango.

The most common early symptom of fungal meningitis is headaches, followed by symptoms like fever, vomiting, neck pain, and blurred vision, BBC said.

When does WHO declare health emergency?

Fungal meningitis is not contagious and can be treated with antifungal medicines - but it can can quickly become life-threatening once symptoms begin.

Americans often travel to Mexico for low-cost medical services.

The WHO declares a public health emergency when a disease spreads between countries and a co-ordinated international response may be required to bring it under control.