Nineteen women who traveled to the Dominican Republic for cheap plastic surgery over the past year came home with nasty, hard-to-treat infections, health officials reported Thursday.
More than half got treated at a single clinic, but cases were traced to seven other clinics in the Caribbean nation, the officials reported. They all seem to be caused by bacteria related to the tuberculosis bug, especially one called Mycobacterium abscessus.
“Fourteen (74 percent) were hospitalized in the United States and required multiple therapeutic and cor­rective surgical procedures and long courses of antibiotics,” the officials wrote in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly disease and death report.
Dr. David Schnabel of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the investigation started with the reports of two Maryland women with surgical site infections who had been medical tourists in the Dominican Republic.
More investigation turned up 17 more cases, including 11 from New York, three from Massachusetts, two from Connecticut and one from Pennsylvania. All were women seeking tummy tucks, liposuction or breast implants.
They had gone to save money, but ended up requiring hospital care and weeks of antibiotics, because the bacteria resist the effects of many drugs. These infections also may leave very unsightly scars — not quite the effect that people want when they go for liposuction or other types of cosmetic surgery.
The Dominican Republic attracts many medical tourists who want cheap surgery and a recovery on beautiful beaches, but U.S. officials say it’s a risky thing to do.
“CDC advises all persons planning to receive surgical care outside the United States to verify that the health care provider and facility they are considering using are licensed and accredited by an internationally recognized accreditation organization before proceeding,” Schnabel’s team advised.
First published March 6 2014, 1:01 PM
Maggie Fox is senior health writer for NBCNews.com and TODAY.com, writing top news on health policy, medical treatments and disease.
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She's a former managing editor for healthcare and technology at National Journal and global health and science editor for Reuters based in Washington, D.C. and London.
She's reported for news agencies, radio, newspapers, magazines and television from across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe covering news ranging from war to politics and, of course, health and science. Her reporting has taken Maggie to Lebanon, Syria and Libya; to China, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan; to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and to Ireland and Northern Ireland and across the rest of Europe.
Maggie has won awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, the National Immunization Program, the Overseas Press Club and other organizations. She's done fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland.