BOTCHED OPS Deadly fungus that ‘eats through blood vessels’ kills 12 and infects 24 after common cosmetic procedures

A DEADLY meningitis outbreak was caused by a fungus that ate through blood vessels and attacked patients’ brains, doctors have revealed.

The infections killed at least 12 people in Matamoros, Mexico, last year — all of whom had undergone cosmetic surgery like breast implants or butt lifts.

A fungus ate through blood vessels and attacked patients’ brains in a meningitis outbreak last year following common cosmetic operations
A fungus ate through blood vessels and attacked patients’ brains in a meningitis outbreak last year following common cosmetic operationsCredit: Alamy

Some 24 confirmed cases were from the US, including Texas, according to reports, while at least half were from Mexico.

It was later found the outbreak was caused by a contaminated injection that introduced the fungus to their spines.

Researchers looking into the devastating surge in cases said the microbe aggressively targeted the base of patients’ brains.

Dr Louis Ostrosky, of UTHealth Houston, told NBC News: “What we ended up seeing is, literally, this fungus eating through blood vessels and causing clotting as well.”

Meningitis is an infection of the protective tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord.

It can lead to deadly sepsis and result in permanent damage to the brain or nerves, and is more common in babies, young children, teenagers and young adults.

Symptoms include a high temperature, being sick, headaches, a rash, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, drowsiness and seizures.

Infections are usually caused by bacteria or viruses, but can also be caused by fungi — as was the case in the Mexican outbreak.

A report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found it was caused by a fungus called Fusarium solani.

Medics studied 13 patients who were affected by the outbreak and started experiencing symptoms an average of 39 days after their surgery.

All infections happened in “young, otherwise healthy patients” who had travelled to two clinics in Tamaulipas from the US and other parts of Mexico for medical tourism, they said.

They became infected after having epidural anaesthesia — an injection used to stop pain in parts of the body that is given for some surgeries — between January and May last year.

This is probably not our last fungal outbreak

Nine of the patients — 69 per cent — died from the meningitis.

Medics warned that while the outbreak was unusual, it probably won’t be the last caused by epidurals taken during medical tourism.

Dr Ostrosky said: “This is probably not our last fungal outbreak.”

Many people travel to countries like Mexico, Turkey and Thailand for cut-price medical procedures.

A surgeon's warning

PROCEDURES like bariatric surgery are offered in a number of countries at a fraction of the cost of going private in the UK.

Operations often include gastric bands, sleeves or bypasses - for which there are long waiting lists in Britain.

But when aftercare goes horribly wrong, the NHS is often forced to take over.

Professor Omar Khan, consultant bariatric surgeon at Ashtead Hospital in Surrey, fears people are risking their lives just to shed some pounds.

He told WalesOnline: "The key issue with any form of surgery is safety.

"For patients travelling abroad for weight loss surgery, there may be real question marks over the quality of pre-operative assessment and the lack of follow-up care offered to these patients.

"Rare, but serious complications can occur and tend to make themselves known one to two weeks after surgery."

Risks include blood clots and the gut becoming blocked or narrowed.

"Anyone post-surgery must be able to be reviewed and treated by their surgeon, especially in the event of complications," Prof Khan added.

"Not only this, but these patients do require long-term follow-up, and someone to coordinate their care in the longer term - all things that are absent in patients undergoing surgery abroad.

"When asked about the risks posed with cutting costs and having weight loss surgery abroad, I like to use the analogy about car insurance: buying a car without insurance might be cheaper, but it’s not safe."

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