Fungal meningitis kills two in Mexico after getting cosmetic procedures

220 others may also be at risk in the U.S.
Sejal Sharma
image of an upper body - with closeup of fungal spores from meningitis
Fungal meningitis


Two people have lost their lives over a suspected fungal meningitis outbreak among patients who underwent surgical procedures like liposuction, Brazilian butt lifts, and breast augmentation under epidural anesthesia in Mexico.

Epidural anesthesia is an injection given to patients as a surgical anesthetic or for pain management after the procedure. The majority of the patients that were exposed to the infection are female, with a mean age of 35.

There are 220 patients in the United States who traveled to Mexico to get similar cosmetic procedures and may be at risk for fungal meningitis. The two clinics where the patients received their surgeries have been identified and were shut on May 13, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are zero confirmed cases as of now, with 14 suspected and 11 probable cases in the U.S. 

Fungal meningitis is an infection caused by fungus. It can spread from somewhere else in the body to the brain or spinal cord, but it isn’t a communicable disease among humans. The majority of the patients in the outbreak experienced headaches, fever, nausea, and a stiff neck.

These fungi are too small to see without a microscope. However, people can get sick if they breathe in the fungal spores, explained the CDC.

How did the outbreak happen?

While the CDC is still investigating the cause, they have two main hypotheses. One is the actual medicine used in epidural anesthesia, which may have led to the infection. And the other is morphine, which is added while administering epidural anesthesia. There’s currently a shortage of morphine in Mexico, and contaminated morphine is probably being sold on the black market.

Dallas Smith, an epidemiologist from the CDC, spoke in a webinar on May 26, where he said that a similar outbreak happened in November 2022 in Mexico, where almost 1,500 patients were exposed to fungal meningitis, which led to 39 deaths.

The CDC is acting fast

The CDC is working with 24 states, and local health departments are contacting people who may have been exposed with instructions to go to their nearest health clinic for diagnostic testing, including an MRI and a spinal tap.

The patients who died were Texas residents, and there are currently 155 persons under investigation in the state alone who had procedures done between January and May 2023.

According to the CDC, millions of people travel from the United States to Mexico for various medical treatments. The term for this is medical tourism – where ‘tourists’ pursue medical care for a decreased cost, recommendations from friends or family, the opportunity to combine medical care with a vacation destination, or a desire to receive a procedure or therapy unavailable in their country of residence.

Smith added, “What we know is that medical tourism is common in U.S citizens, especially cosmetic. And what we found through investigation and interviews is that there’s these agents that act as recruiters in the U.S for patients they link to these clinics to receive certain care and certain procedures.”

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