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'Fish Pedicure' a Recipe for Bacterial Infection, Researchers Warn
Date:5/17/2012

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, May 17 (HealthDay News) -- "Fish pedicures" in health spas can expose recipients to a host of pathogens and bacterial infections, a team of researchers warns.

The practice of exposing your feet to live freshwater fish that eat away dead or damaged skin for mainly cosmetic reasons has been banned in many (but not all) American states, but it is apparently a hot trend in Britain.

So much so that the British researchers sent their warning in a letter published in the June issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a publication from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officially known as "ichthyotherapy," the procedure typically involves the importation of what are called "doctor fish," a Eurasian river basin species known as "Garra rufa." The fish are placed in a spa tub, the foot (or even whole body) joins it, and the nautical feeding on dead or unwanted skin begins.

The problem: such fish may play host to a wide array of organisms and disease, some of which can provoke invasive soft-tissue infection in exposed humans and many of which are antibiotic-resistant, according to the scientists from the Center for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) in Weymouth.

In the letter, CEFAS team leader David W. Verner-Jeffreys referenced a 2011 survey that suggested the U.K. is now home to 279-plus "fish spas," with an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 fish coming into the country every week from a host of Asian countries.

Verner-Jeffreys noted that in April 2011, 6,000 fish imported from Indonesia for U.K. fish spas were affected by a disease outbreak that caused hemorrhaging of their gills, mouth and abdomen, resulting in the death of nearly all the specimens.

In turn, U.K. scientists uncovered signs of bacterial infection (caused by a pathogen called "S agalactiae") in the fishes' livers, kidneys and spleen.

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