Boston – The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) has recently investigated several reports of severe infections in patients following cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic. A number of people who traveled to the Dominican Republic in the summer for cosmetic surgery are having serious infections, and some of these have been confirmed to be caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium abscessus. This germ can be spread through contaminated medical equipment, medical supplies, or poor surgical techniques. Infection can cause severe pain and swelling, and often does not show up until several weeks after surgery.

“Medical tourism” has become a major industry in many Latin American countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 750,000 people from the United States travel abroad each year seeking low cost medical care. Although all surgeries have certain risks, appropriate training and safety procedures, including sterilization of all medical equipment and use of sterile medical supplies, can help ensure a healthy recovery.

Individuals planning to travel abroad for surgery should take several steps to help prevent potential life-threatening complications:

    • Talk with your primary care provider about your trip and planned surgery at least 4 to 6 weeks prior to traveling.
    • Ask the doctor and facility that you are using for surgery outside the United States about how many people have had infections following surgical procedures at their facility and how many have had serious problems (including death) after having surgery.
    • Obtain a written agreement, describing what treatment, supplies, and care are provided, with the doctor who will perform the surgery abroad. It is important that the doctor also informs you before you travel about ALL risks associated with the surgery. Ask the doctor performing the surgery about what measures are in place to provide care for you if you develop problems after the surgery. Ask if there is any additional cost associated with this care.
    • Get copies of all medical records related to your surgery and medical care provided abroad before returning home.

For questions about medical tourism, please contact the Boston Public Health Commission’s Communicable Disease Control Division at (617) 534-5611 or