Each year, particularly during the summertime, upward of 750,000 Americans travel abroad, not for leisure but to undergo medical treatment that’s either unavailable or deemed too costly here in the United States. Many of these unsuspecting travelers are crossing borders and oceans specifically for plastic surgery. If you’re considering seeking cosmetic procedures outside of the US, you’ll want to reconsider when you hear what health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have to say.
Prompted by an August 2013 incident in which a Maryland doctor treated two women who had developed serious infections after undergoing cosmetic surgery at the same Dominican Republic clinic, CDC officials launched a nationwide probe into the issue. Investigators soon identified 21 people in six states who had recently received surgery in the Dominican Republic and were infected with rapidly growing mycobacteria (RGM), a bacteria that can cause or aggravate a range of potentially devastating medical conditions. These include posttraumatic and postsurgical wound infections, bone and joint infections, catheter-related infections, postinjection abscesses, disseminated cutaneous disease, pulmonary disease, central nervous system disease and cervical lymphadenitis.
Of the victims identified, 15 had undergone liposuction, 12 abdominoplasty, eight buttocks augmentation, six breast augmentation and four breast reduction. They reported a range of symptoms including severe swelling, pain, scarring and fluid drainage. Eight were hospitalized, some more than once. Medical records made available to media for nine of the patients revealed they underwent surgery, which included procedures like drainage or implant removal, to treat their infections.
Thirteen had visited the same clinic in the Dominican Republic as the first two women treated. That clinic since has closed, according to the country’s Ministry of Health. Just how the infections were caused remains unknown, but Dr. Doug Esposito, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch, says “any breach in sterile technique” can cause bacteria to get into a person’s wound.
A survey of the patients revealed that 90 percent of them chose to travel abroad for cosmetic surgery at least in part to save money. Cost analysis research shows that patients can save upward of 88 percent on cosmetic procedures outside the US. Unfortunately for many of them, the potential for dire health consequences and costs related to corrective treatments can be devastating. That’s primarily because acceptable standards of care often are far lower in other countries than here in the US.
“[Medical tourism] is a rapidly growing market, and we have relatively little data on the extent of this practice,” Esposito said. “We need to understand the nature of the problem and the risks people might be experiencing.”
Don’t take chances with your looks or, more importantly, your health. If you live in the Northeast Florida area and are considering cosmetic surgery, call 904-396-1186 to schedule a consultation with Parkway Plastic Surgery’s board-certified cosmetic surgeon.