A THIRD American has fallen victim to a fungal brain and spinal cord infection after travelling to Mexico for cosmetic procedures.
Lauren Robinson, 29, was the latest victim of a fungal meningitis outbreak traced back to two clinics in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
The mum-of-four passed away from the infection to the membranes in her brain and spinal cord May 31, at Jennie Sealy Hospital in Galveston, Texas.
She underwent an unspecified procedure in a Mexican clinic in February and appeared to recover well from it.
Lauren only started developing meningitis symptoms a few months later, according to her husband Garret Robinson.
"She was great, the results were great, everything was good, she started going back to work, then she started constantly telling me, 'I have a headache, something is not right,'" he told local Texas news station WFAA.
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After several hospital trips, doctors identified the cause of her symptoms as fungal meningitis.
Garret said his wife's death had been 'heartbreaking' and urged people to properly think about the dangers of getting cosmetic procedures.
"Don’t do it, it’s not worth it," he told 12 News.
Her obituary described Lauren as a "devoted and loving mother to her children and stepchildren, treating them as if they were her own."
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It went on to say: "Her genuine caring nature and desire to help others made her the go-to person for assistance, and she always sought to make a positive impact on those she encountered.
"Lauren's vibrant personality lit up any room she entered, and she was often the life of the party. Her strong independence was a defining trait that helped shape her character."
What are the symptoms of fungal meningitis?
It can take weeks for symptoms of fungal meningitis to develop, and they may be very mild or absent at first.
- Stiff neck
- Nausea and vomiting
- Eyes being more sensitive to light (photophobia)
- Altered mental status, confusion
Fungal meningitis can develop after a fungal infection is accidently introduced during a medical or surgical procedure or spreads from somewhere else in the body to the brain or spinal cord, according to the CDC.
Although anyone can get fungal meningitis, people with weakened immune systems are at increased risk. Certain health conditions, medications, and surgical procedures may weaken the immune system.
Fungal meningitis is treated oral medications and drugs injected through the vein. Treatment length can vary depending on the type of fungus.
At least two specific clinics have been linked to the fungal meningitis outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): River Side Surgical Center and Clinica K-3 are situated just across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
All the impacted patients had procedures under epidural anesthesia, when medicine is injected into the space around the spinal cord.
The Mexican Ministry of Health shuttered both on May 13 and sent the CDC a list of 221 US patients who might be at risk for meningitis based on records of procedures at these clinics between January 1 and May 13, the US agency said.
In a June 1 update, the CDC said laboratories in the US and Mexico have detected evidence of a species of fungi called Fusarium solani in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients.
This is the same strain found in a similar outbreak that began a year ago in Durango, a Mexican state directly west of Tamaulipas.
In that outbreak, epidural anesthesia was linked to at least 80 cases of fungal meningitis, 39 of which were fatal.
Nearly all of the cases were in women undergoing gynecological and obstetric procedures.
Fusarium fungi are naturally found in the environment (organic matter, soil, and water) and have been known to contaminate pharmaceutical products made improperly, Ars Technica reported.
The CDC added that a total of US 212 residents have been identified who might be at risk of fungal meningitis because they received epidural anesthesia at the clinics in 2023.
But they weren't the only ones to get procedures at River Side Surgical Center and Clinica K-3.
People from Mexico, Canada and Colombia have partaken as well. So far, the Mexican Ministry of Health has identified a total of 547 people at risk, based on a May 25 press release.
What types of meningitis are there?
There are three main types of meningitis, based on how the person is infected:
- Viral meningitis
- Bacterial meningitis
- Fungal meningitis
According to the NHS, viral meningitis is the most common and least serious type. Several viruses can lead to inflammation in the meninges – the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.
These tend to be enteroviruses – viruses that usually only cause a mild stomach infection – the mumps virus, or the herpes simplex virus – a virus that usually causes cold sores or genital herpes.
When a virus is to blame, in most cases the infection will be fairly mild and can go away on its own, according to Healthline – though people with weakened immune systems, older adults and babies might need to be admitted into hospital.
Meanwhile, the NHS said bacterial meningitis is rare but can be serious or life threatening if left untreated.
Meningococcal bacteria and pneumococcal bacteria and haemophilus influenzae type b bacteria could be the cause. They'll usually enter the bloodstream and then travel to the meninges, thought sinus and ear infections could lead bacteria to enter the membranes directly.
Finally, fungal meningitis is the least common of the three and will generally affect people with weakened immune systems – people with HIV or cancer will be at higher risk.
It’s not usually spread from an infected person to other people, but people affected will need to be treated in hospital.
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