According to The Washington Post, at least a dozen Americans who opted for medical procedures just across the border in Tijuana, Mexico also contracted a rare and potentially deadly strain of bacteria that almost no known antibiotics can treat. One of those patients, Tamika Capone of Jonesboro, Arkansas remains seriously ill four months after her surgery despite doctors treating her with a barrage of drugs, all to no effect.
According to a travel notice for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while all the American who have gotten sick with this particular strain of bacteria had invasive surgeries in Tijuana, one hospital in particular – Grand View Hospital – was the location where over half of the patients received their operations. Mexican authorities temporarily closed the hospital in December, but posts from patients on the hospital’s Facebook page indicate that it has reopened. Capone told The Washington Post that someone deleted comments that she left on that page in an attempt to warn other potential patients about the life or death situation having surgery there has put her in.
The CDC responds aggressively when patients such as Capone test positive because these antibiotic-resistant infections are so difficult to treat. Maroya Spalding Walters, an epidemiologist leading the CDC team investigating the outbreak said, “We pounce when we see them because we know they can smolder and spread.” Although there is little data available relating to infectious diseases caused by medical tourism, this is not the first case documented by the CDC. Dozens of patients experienced severe skin infections after getting cosmetic surgery procedures in the Dominican Republic in 2013 and 2017. Five New York residents contracted Q fever, which causes a flu-like illness, after receiving injections of fetal sheep cells in Germany.
CDC Officials stated that half of the dozen people who brought back confirmed cases of this strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria required hospitalization upon returning to their homes in Arkansas, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Washington state, and West Virginia. The CDC warned that any individuals who had surgery at Grand View Hospital after August 1, 2018 needs to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Capone initially decided to have her surgery in Mexico because the operation in Mexico would cost $4,000 instead of $17,000 in the U.S. The post-surgery infection has cost Capone $30,000, and she is still suffering from an open, unhealing wound. Because no U.S. authority has jurisdiction over Grand View Hospital, it is unlikely that Capone will be able to sue the hospital for malpractice. “I’m at a breaking point,” Capone said. “I’m so scared. I don’t want to lose my life for this. I don’t want to have my family suffer because I chose to go to Mexico.”
Opting to go to Mexico ended up costing considerably more than the face price of the operation. The cutting corners and safeguards in the pursuit of saving money endangered their lives and was more expensive in the final tally. While these patients suffered from unsanitary conditions for their operations, American patients also risk the same unsanitary conditions when they purchase medication from foreign, non-US licensed sources. Whether if it is online or at a pharmacy in another country, the risks to purchasing counterfeit or substandard drugs include identity fraud, illness, and even death. For more information on these topics, please read the FDA’s BeSafeRx Know the Risks.