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CDC Warns of Drug-Resistant Bacteria Coming from Mexican Clinics

A Mexican soldier walks past the entrance of the Tijuana General Hospital on May 20, 2008. AP Photo/David Maung)

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Wednesday about drug-resistant, difficult-to-treat infections that were brought back home by visitors to Tijuana.

The form of Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria can cause serious illness, including pneumonia, and death. The CDC linked the new cases to health tourism: people traveling south of the border for medical procedures.

The CDC did not say how many people have fallen ill, but linked “about half” of the cases to Grand View Hospital, which is located just over two miles from the San Ysidro border crossing. The Mexican government has closed the Grand View Hospital until further notice based on U.S. health officials’ reports.

The other half of superbug cases originated with other hospitals or clinics in the city, and the majority of cases arose from weight-loss surgery. Pseudomonas spreads on the hands of healthcare workers or on contaminated equipment that is not properly cleaned.

The bacteria are rare, becoming more resistant to antibiotics, and are difficult to treat, the CDC said. “Pseudomonas infections of the blood, lungs (pneumonia), and after surgery can lead to severe illness and death,” the agency said. “Drug-resistant Pseudomonas bacteria do not respond to most commonly available antibiotics.”

CDC recommends that U.S. residents crossing over to Tijuana “not have surgery at the Grand View Hospital until the Mexican government can confirm that the drug-resistant form of Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria is no longer there.”

About 65 percent of people heading south of the border for medical procedures aren’t covered by health insurance, according to the Medical Tourism Association. About a million California residents head to Mexico each year for medical procedures.

Mexico touts its cosmetic surgery as being 50 percent to 70 percent less than in the United States, and teeth whitening at an average of $50 compared to $250 in the U.S.

Gastric bypass and dental implants are popular among U.S. residents within driving distance of Tijuana.