Utahn dies after weight-loss surgery in Mexico

A Utahn has died after traveling to Tijuana, Mexico, to undergo weight-loss surgery and testing positive for a bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, state health officials said Monday.

Eight Utahns, including the patient who died, have been infected or colonized with a form of Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria (VIM-CRPA) after traveling to Tijuana for similar surgical procedures.

The name of the deceased person was not released. The other patients have recovered.

The Utah Department of Health interviewed the patients or family members and discovered seven of the eight patients, including the patient who died, reported the same surgeon, Mario Almanza, performed their operations.

Five of these patients reported they had been referred to Almanza through an online referral service known as Weight Loss Agents.

Nationally, there have been reports of these highly antibiotic-resistant organisms in patients who received health care in Mexico.

“We cannot provide any assurances of patient safety or quality of care to individuals who are considering undergoing such procedures in Tijuana,” said Allyn Nakashima, manager of the department’s health care-associated infections/antimicrobial resistant program. “I cannot stress enough the safest course of action is not to travel to Mexico for these procedures. Using an internationally accredited facility is not a guarantee that your medical care will be free of complications.”

The state first announced the outbreak of VIM-CRPA infections in January and recommended Utahns not travel to Mexico to undergo such surgeries. The Utah cases are linked to similar ones nationwide, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is assisting in investigating the outbreak.

Individuals who had a surgical procedure in Tijuana during or after August 2018 and are experiencing signs of infection — including fever, redness, swelling or pus or drainage from the incision site — should seek medical care immediately. Serious complications may result without prompt treatment.

Anyone considering traveling abroad for medical procedures should visit the CDC medical tourism webpage (https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/medical-tourism) for more information before traveling.

People should also tell their health care provider about any travel and all medical care or surgeries abroad to help guide effective treatment. Travelers should consult with a travel medicine specialist in the U.S. at least a month before a planned trip. Travel medicine specialists can provide guidance, vaccines and medicines needed for your trip. You can find a travel clinic near you at https://bit.ly/32EyKwL.