Fish pedicure costs woman her toenails, medical expert warns of ‘serious infections’

Tiny fish called Garra rufa eat dead human skin making for a sort of pedicure

Tiny fish called Garra rufa eat dead human skin making for a sort of pedicure

Although a fish pedicure may sound like a toe-tickling unique experience, you could potentially lose your toenails - seriously.

The fish spa process involves placing feet in lukewarm water and allowing swarms of the Turkish doctor fish to feed on dead and callused skin. But, there are several risks linked to fish pedicures - for example, when the fish are present, the tubs can not be properly cleaned between one customer's use and another's.

Image by Dr. Shari R. Lipner.

Onychomadesis causes your toenails to shed and fall off. Although often due to injury, it has been linked to infections, as well as certain medications and autoimmune disorders.

"We don't see the [nail] shedding until months after the event, so I think it's hard for patients and physicians - especially if they're not even aware that fish pedicures can do this - to make that connection", she said. "I am not convinced at all that the fishes caused the problem", Dr. Antonella Tosti, the Fredric Brandt Endowed Professor of Dermatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told CNN. While experts still don't know exactly how fish pedicure-borne infections happen, it could be due to lingering bacteria from the last person to put their food it in the fish tank.

Given all the potential risks, it's not too surprising that at least 10 USA states have banned fish pedicures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lipner said in the JAMA report, "First, tubs and fish can not be adequately sanitized between people, and the same fish are typically reused for successive persons".

That raises the odds for infections transmitted between customers, and "several bacteria capable of causing disease in humans were isolated in batches of Garra rufa and waters from 24 fish spas", she said.

There were reports of a patient with a Staphylococcus aureus infection after a fish pedicure.

"First, tubs and fish can not be adequately sanitized between people", Lipner said, "with the same fish typically reused for several persons". In fact, the United Kingdom government's Health Protection Agency (HPA) published a report on fish pedicure safety in 2011 and concluded that the risk for infection from the treatment is "likely to be very low". In addition, the fish themselves can not be sanitized between each customer's pedicure session, the CDC says.

One skin expert not involved with the case said the report raises cause for concern.

The fish's voracious feasting is said to help treat conditions such as psoriasis as well as beautify the skin, lending them the nickname of "Doctor Fish".

Fish spas used to be all the rage when they first came out.

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