Fungal Meningitis Threat: CDC Issues Warning to People Visiting Mexican Clinics

Fungal Meningitis Threat: CDC Issues Warning to People Visiting Mexican Clinics
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta on April 23, 2020. (Tami Chappell/AFP via Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning about an outbreak of fungal meningitis among people who visited two surgical clinics in Mexico.

“Current fungal meningitis outbreak: Affects people, including U.S. residents, who had epidural anesthesia in Matamoros, Mexico. Fungal meningitis can be a severe illness," the CDC said in a June 7 tweet. "Find out who is at risk and share this post with family and friends."
Fungal meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membrane surrounding the central nervous system after a fungal infection spreads from somewhere else in the body. Signs and symptoms include fever, nausea, eyes becoming more sensitive to light, altered mental status or confusion, stiff neck, and headache.

Epidurals are a common procedure to provide pain relief or temporary numbness. They involve injecting a medication, either a steroid or an anesthetic, into the space around the spinal nerves.

According to the agency, those at risk of fungal meningitis in the current outbreak are individuals who had epidural anesthesia in Matamoros at the River Side Surgical Center or Clinica K-3 between Jan. 1 and May 13.

Based on CDC numbers, 184 people in the United States are under investigation for fungal meningitis infection as of June 7.
There are 13 suspected cases in which individuals have exhibited symptoms consistent with fungal meningitis and four confirmed cases in which the fungus has been detected in tests. Three people have died, which includes one probable case and two confirmed cases.

Evaluation ‘As Soon as Possible’

The CDC is advising people who have undergone epidural anesthesia at the two Mexican clinics to go to the nearest emergency room “as soon as possible to be evaluated for fungal meningitis, even if you do not currently have symptoms.”

“Some people without symptoms or with mild symptoms have tested positive for infection and started treatment. Receiving treatment early can prevent severe illness. Fungal meningitis can start off mild and very quickly become a life-threatening illness,” the agency stated.

The CDC also asked Americans to cancel any elective procedure involving an epidural injection of an anesthetic in Matamoros, as well as cancel any travel associated with the procedure, unless there's evidence that there's no longer a risk of being infected at these clinics.

The highest number of potential cases was in Texas, where 151 individuals are under review. Seven people are suspected to have been infected, with four confirmed cases. The three deaths so far have occurred in Texas.
The majority of U.S. citizens exposed to potential fungal meningitis are women. Hispanics/Latino-Whites have been diagnosed most frequently with the infection, according to CDC data (pdf).

Testing and Treatment

If suspected of having fungal meningitis, a test will be required to confirm one. This will involve inserting a needle into the lower back into a region around the spine to collect fluid that will be analyzed in a lab.

“If you test positive for infection: your healthcare team will treat you with antifungal medicines in the hospital. When you go home, it is possible that you will need to take antifungal medicine for several months to completely cure the infection,” the CDC stated.

The length of the treatment will depend upon the immune system of the patient, as well as the type of fungus responsible for the disease. Individuals suffering from weak immune systems, such as those who have cancer or AIDS, may need longer treatment.

As a preventive measure, the CDC recommends that people with weak immune systems avoid areas with a lot of dust, such as excavation and construction sites. When indoors, air filtration systems should ideally be used, according to the agency.