Growing number of acupuncture-transmitted diseases: experts call for infection control guidelines

Growing number of acupuncture-transmitted diseases: experts call for infection control guidelines

In an editorial on today, experts are demanding further funding to establish appropriate infection control guidelines to deal with the growing number of acupuncture-transmitted diseases.

The number of reported cases is described as "the tip of the iceberg" by Professor Patrick Woo and colleagues from the University of Hong Kong.

Acupuncture is one of the most widely practiced strands of alternative medicine. It is based on the theory that inserting and manipulating fine needles at specific points in the body helps to promote the flow of Qi or energy.

Professor Woo is the lead author. He argues that acupuncture may pose risks to patients as needles are inserted up to several centimeters beneath the skin.

Most patients recover from infections. However, Professor Woo explains that 5 to 10 percent of the reported pyogenic bacterial infections end up with serious problems including:

• joint destruction

• multi-organ failure

• flesh eating disease

• paralysis

Most infections caused are bacterial. But Woo comments there have been outbreaks of hepatitis B, and perhaps cases of hepatitis C and HIV that are believed to have been transmitted via acupuncture.

He comments that in the 21st century a new clinical syndrome has emerged, known as acupuncture mycobacteriosis. This is an infection caused by mycobacteria that rapidly grow around the acupuncture insertion point as a result of contaminated cotton wool swabs, towels and hot-pack covers. There is a long incubation period but the infection usually leads to large abscesses and ulcers.

The authors say in closing that "to prevent infections transmitted by acupuncture, infection control measures should be implemented, such as use of disposable needles, skin disinfection procedures, and aseptic techniques. Stricter regulation and accreditation requirements are also needed."

"Acupuncture transmitted infections: the tip of the iceberg of a global emerging problem"

Patrick C Y Woo, professor, Ada W C Lin, specialist, Susanna K P Lau, associate professor, Kwok-Yung Yuen, chair of infectious diseases

BMJ 2010; 340:c1268

Changes in Clinical Diagnostics and Tracking Infectious Diseases (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Disease