About 750,000 Americans travel abroad to receive medical care and plastic surgery every year, usually in hopes of cheaper rates. But a new report from U. S. health officials reveals that some Americans have contracted severe infections from getting plastic surgery —including breast augmentations, liposuction and buttock lifts, among other procedures—in foreign countries, highlighting the possible risks of medical tourism.
In August 2013, a Maryland doctor treated two women who had developed serious infections after undergoing cosmetic surgery at the same clinic in the Dominican Republic. The two women told the physician that they had an acquaintance in Massachusetts with “similar problems” after having surgery at that clinic. It was determined that the women’s surgical sites were infected with rapidly growing mycobacteria (RGM)—a bacteria that’s often resistant to standard antibiotics. The doctor alerted the Maryland Department of Health, and in collaboration with the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a nation-wide investigation was launched.
The probe identified 21 people with RGM in six states who traveled to the Dominican Republic for cosmetic surgery, according to a report published Wednesday in the CDC’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. According to the report, the median number of cosmetic surgeries per person was two, with 15 people getting liposuction, 12 getting abdominoplasty, eight receiving buttocks augmentation, six receiving breast augmentation and four getting a breast reduction.
Thirteen of the people visited the same clinic in the Dominican Republic, which the country’s Ministry of Health says is now closed. How the infections were caused is unknown, but report author Dr. Doug Esposito, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC's Travelers' Health Branch, says “any breach in sterile technique” can causes bacteria to get into a person’s wound.
Sign up for TIME Health and more. View Sample