21 Women Infected With Dangerous Bacteria From Medical Tourism Procedures

U.S. health officials have put out a warning advising Americans about the risks associated with “medical tourism” after nearly two dozen women contracted serious infections as a result of undergoing plastic surgery in the Dominican Republic. A study recently published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal Emerging Infectious Disease outlines a multistate outbreak after 21 women who underwent liposuction, tummy tucks, breast reductions and butt implant procedures at one of five clinics in the Caribbean nation returned with a severe skin infection. 

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The rapidly growing infection, caused by a bacteria called mycobacterium abcessum (distantly related to the bacteria that causes tuberculosis and leprosy), is very difficult to treat and can lead to months of antibiotic treatment, hospitalization or even additional surgery. According to the CDC, upon returning to the U.S. after their surgeries, the women reported prolonged symptoms like swelling, tenderness and an oozing fluid discharge at their incision sites.

The two initial cases were first discovered in 2013 when a physician in Maryland alerted local health authorities of two infected patients that had recently undergone surgery in the Dominican Republic. This launched a nationwide investigation by the CDC and 19 more cases have been uncovered since then. More than half of the women had been to the same clinic in the Dominican Republic, referred to as “clinic A” in the CDC study, and many of the women did not completely heal, even nine months after their procedure.  

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Each year, about 750,000 U.S. residents travel abroad to receive medical care and plastic surgery. Medical tourism is on the rise, primarily because of the lower costs of surgeries like these. The majority of the infected women visited the same clinic in the Dominican Republic, which the country’s Ministry of Health says is now closed. The cause of the infection is unknown, but the study suggests it's possible the bacteria entered their plastic surgery wounds through tap water or instruments used in surgery. The CDC is not advising against medical tourism, but is urging prospective patients to do their homework before undergoing any plastic surgery procedures abroad. 

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