British Health Agency Warns of Dangers with Fish Pedicure

fish spa pedicure with garra rufa fish
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A favorite show with my daughters is Nickelodeon’s Victorious, starring Victoria Justice. During one episode, the “Hollywood Arts” students are treated to a home fish pedicure where tiny fish eat away at the skin on the teens’ feet, leaving them super soft and smooth. Unfortunately, the group all ends up in the emergency room very ill. While the story portrayed here is fictional, officials with Britain’s Health Protection Agency have warned customers seeking the unconventional spa treatment that the practice could potentially spread infections such as HIV and hepatitis C.

A fish pedicure, popularized in Asia, consists of a client placing his or her feet in a tank filled with Garra Rufa fish, a type of toothless carp also known as doctor fish. After 15 to 30 minutes of “nibbling”, the customers get a standard pedicure, made easier because of the removal of hard calluses and dead skin. The treatment was introduced in the United States in 2008 as an alternative to razors which have come under scrutiny by health officials because of sanitation concerns.

But the fish footbath has concerns of its own. The HPA has found that the tank water contains a number of micro-organisms and that infections could be transmitted either from fish to person during the nibbling process or from water to person from the bacteria in the tank. Blood borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis could be transmitted if infected clients bleed into the spa water and it is reused.

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An agency spokesman said, "When the correct hygiene procedures are followed, the risk of infection is very low, but cannot be completely excluded.”

Canada and some states in the US, including Florida, Texas, New Hampshire, and Washington have already banned the practice. British officials will continue to allow the fish spa pedicure, but only if strict standards of cleanliness are followed. Members of the public should report any suspicion of failure to follow the guidelines to their local environmental health department, notes HPA director of health protection services Dr. Paul Cosford.

People with certain health conditions that make them vulnerable to infection, such as diabetes, psoriasis or weakened immune systems, should avoid receiving the fish pedicures. Salons should also perform a thorough foot examination on clients to ensure there are no open cuts or wounds.

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