Doctor accused of spreading deadly meningitis arrested in Mexico

By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexican police detained a medical doctor and two others on Tuesday, all implicated in causing a meningitis outbreak in northern Mexico, after a surge of local cases in recent months led to the death of at least 35 women.

Another 79 people have been hospitalized with signs of infection.

Police in northern Durango state early on Tuesday morning arrested the doctor, an anesthesiologist, who prosecutors accuse of distributing infected medicines they believe led to the mysterious outbreak.

The doctor is changed with illegal re-use of drugs at the private hospitals where he worked.

Later on Tuesday, Durango prosecutors announced the arrest of two officials with state health safety regulator Coprised.

One is accused of mismanaging drugs, failure to ensure proper hygiene, as well as allowing operating rooms to fall into disrepair. The other is charged with failure to comply with professional requirements.

Meningitis is typically associated with painful inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, often caused by a virus or in some cases bacteria or a fungal infection.

The affected patients in Durango were likely infected by fungal meningitis while undergoing procedures in the same hospitals where the doctor worked, Durango state prosecutor Sonia Garza told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday.

She said patients were probably first infected last August after many were administered anesthesia for obstetric procedures.

"This specialist carried out procedures with no restraint," said Garza, claiming he brought his own medication for patients, including unauthorized controlled drugs.

The cases have raised concern in both Mexico and from international bodies after the outbreak's first casualty was confirmed last November.

Garza added that the detained doctor was the only physician who conducted procedures at the four hospitals where patients were infected. She said the doctor, at a hearing, denied using his own medications.

The full names of the three detainees were not made public.

Reuters was not immediately able to request comment from the doctor, or locate his lawyer, but his son, contacted by Reuters, proclaimed his father's innocence.

"They accused my father without any evidence," said the son, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

The meningitis outbreak has been confined to private hospitals in the state capital, also known as Durango, according to Mexico's health ministry.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico CityWriting by Carolina PuliceEditing by David Garcia Alire, Sandra Maler and Matthew Lewis)