Texas mother dies from fungal meningitis linked to outbreak in border clinics; 10 deaths reported

CDC urges people who visited Matamoros clinics for surgery to get tested

Generic image of a doctor's office. (Pixabay)

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – More deaths have been linked to a fungal meningitis outbreak at two clinics on the Texas-Mexico border, including a Rio Grande Valley mother who died this week after being hospitalized for months.

The outbreak is among people who traveled to Matamoros, the Mexican city across the border from Brownsville, to have surgical procedures that required epidural anesthesia.

Two clinics identified in the outbreak — River Side Surgical Center and Clinica K-3 — have since been closed.

In an update on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said nine people have died, 10 people have been confirmed with the fungus, 14 people have probable cases, and 10 people have suspected cases. Another 151 people are under investigation.

On Sunday, the death toll increased to 10 with the passing of Crystal Villegas, according to Valley Central.

The newspaper reported that Villegas, a mother of three from Brownsville, went to River Side in March for cosmetic surgery.

Three weeks later, she started to experience headaches.

During an interview in early July, Villegas and her husband, Johnny Tapia, told Valley Central that they went to the hospital but Villegas was only told she had migraines and was not admitted.

Tapia said days later, he found his wife nearly unconscious with a high fever. Doctors conducted a spinal tap and confirmed fungal meningitis.

Tapia announced her passing in a Facebook post on Sunday.

“She fought hard for 4 months and refused to give in, and even though she lost the battle against this deadly disease she gained something so much greater. My Crystal gained her angel wings,” Tapia wrote.

The CDC is urging anyone who underwent surgeries at the two clinics between Jan. 1 and May 13 to visit an emergency room to be evaluated or to call a local health center, even if they are not experiencing symptoms.

They should tell staff that they recently had epidural anesthesia at one of the two Mexico clinics. People will be tested with a spinal tap.

Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, vomiting, light sensitivity and confusion. Symptoms may start as mild at first, and they could take weeks to develop. Mild symptoms may quickly turn severe or life-threatening, the CDC states.

Fungal meningitis cannot be transmitted from person to person and develops after a fungal infection is accidentally introduced during surgery. It then spreads to the brain or spinal cord.

The U.S. is warning people against traveling to Matamoros for any surgery that involves epidural anesthesia until the outbreak is clear.

A Level 2 travel warning has been issued by the CDC due to the outbreak. Level 2 calls for travelers to “Practice Enhanced Precautions.”

“All medical and surgical procedures carry some risk, and complications can occur regardless of where treatment is received. If you travel to another country for a procedure, do not delay seeking medical care if you suspect any complication during travel or after returning home,” the CDC says. “Obtaining medical care immediately can lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment and a better outcome.”

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Rebecca Salinas joined KSAT in the fall of 2019. Her skills include content management, engagement and reporting.