Fish foot spa pedicures could spread diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, health experts have warned.
The government’s Health Protection Agency said those with diabetes, psoriasis or a weak immune system are particularly vulnerable and should not take part in the beauty craze at all.
In new guidance to be published today, they said the risk of infection for users of the increasingly popular treatment, in which dozens of tiny fish nibble dead skin from customers’ feet, is ‘low but could not be completely excluded’.
Health warning: There are fears fish pedicures could spread HIV and hepatitis C, the Health Protection Agency have warned
The agency says fish tank water contains micro-organisms and believes problems could arise from bacteria being transmitted by the pedicure’s garra rufa fish, from the spa water itself or from one customer to another if the water is not changed.
If a user is infected with a blood-borne virus like HIV or hepatitis and bleeds in the water, there is a risk the diseases could be passed on.
According to the agency’s guidance, the risk is ‘extremely low’ but it ‘cannot be completely excluded’.
An agency spokesman said: ‘We have issued this guidance because there are a growing number of these spas.
‘When the correct hygiene procedures are followed, the risk of infection is very low.
‘However, there is still a risk of transmission of a number of infections — this does include viruses like HIV and hepatitis.’
The HPA has recommended that spa water is changed after each client.
The equipment cannot be conventionally sterilised because the process could harm the fish, of which there are about 200 in every tank.
The pedicures – which have long been popular in Asia where the fad began – have been banned in some U.S. states, including Florida, Texas, New Hampshire and Washington, due to fears that infections could spread through open wounds.
The trend, which is meant to leave clients with smooth and attractive feet, has spread to beauty salons across the country and there are now around 280 fish spas in the UK.
Amy Childs and James Argent from the Only Way is Essex have had the treatment.
A spokeswoman for HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust said: ‘The risk of picking up infections is minimal but people must be careful where they choose to go.’
‘SUCH A BIZARRE SENSATION THAT MY SHOULDERS SHAKE WITH JITTERY LAUGHTER’
Ticklish: BBC presenter Emily Maitlis has a fish pedicure
Earlier this year BBC presenter Emily Maitlis tried out the latest beauty treatment. Here is what she thought of it.
The first time I pass Aqua Sheko, it is a Saturday night at about 8pm and it is positively teeming – with people. Obviously it is always teeming with fish.
Kensington locals are queuing up to pay £45 to put their feet into a large tank of warm water and have their dead skin nibbled by the piranha’s baby brother, the garra rufa fish.
Does that sound gross? You bet. Does £45 sound like a lot of money to be eaten alive? You bet. Am I dying to have a go? Of course I am.
Here, there are rules forbidding broken skin, cuts and bites and I am relieved just to pass the test. I am smiling and relaxed as I pad up to the banquette behind the fish tank.
I am chatting as I slip off the spa slippers and plunge my feet into the tank. But nothing prepares me for what comes next. Dozens of little mouths – like suction pads – head for your feet. You look down and see a swarm covering everything below the ankles, while the really cheeky ones dive between your toes, under your nails and flicker up your instep. I feel as if I’m being vacuumed.
It has been described as a tickling sensation and a light massage but make no mistake – you are bait. It is such a bizarre sensation that I start to giggle.
My hands go to my mouth to hide my embarrassment, but my shoulders continue to shake with jittery laughter.
It takes me a good ten minutes before I am able to glance down at my feet without wanting to whisk them out. After 20 minutes in the water, the novelty (and indeed the skin) has started to wear off.
Afterwards my skin feels vaguely softer but not very different. And if chunks were taken out of my toes, well, the munchers have covered their tracks pretty well.
But if you ask me if it was therapeutic, I’d have to say yes. I haven’t laughed like that in ages.
But a woman who runs a chain of the foot spa centres said health chiefs were ‘scaremongering’.
Dr Hilary Kirkbride, consultant epidemiologist at the HPA, said: ‘Provided that good standards of hygiene are followed by salons, members of the public are unlikely to get an infection from a fish spa pedicure, however the risk will be higher for certain people.’
Dr Kilbride said salons should first check their clients have no underlying health conditions that could put them at risk, and thoroughly examine their feet to make sure there are no cuts, grazes or infectious skin conditions.
Dr Paul Cosford, the HPA’s director of health protection services, added: ‘If a member of the public is concerned about the level of cleanliness of a salon they visit, they should report this to their local environmental health department.’
The HPA guidance has been endorsed by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland.