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Fish spa in troubled waters

health and fitness Updated: Dec 03, 2011 16:31 IST

Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

International study claims that the Garra Rufa Therapy can spread HIV infection, spa owners rubbish the scare.

Been to a fish spa at the neighbourhood mall recently? You may just want to think twice before repeating the Relaxing experience. An international health report has recently called it Risky, suggesting that the popular therapy in which small fish nibble away the dead skin from the feet of the users, can spread infections as serious as HIV and Hepatitis C. However, outraged spa owners claim they follow stringent international hygiene and safety standards.

The study, conducted by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in UK, says that the Garra Rufa fish which is commonly used in fish spas can transfer infections if they nibble on the skin of an HIV infected person. Indian medical experts support the view. “If infected blood is transfused in the water and someone else with cuts or abrasions dips their feet in it, chances of transmission are fairly high,” says skin consultant Dr. Gulshant Panesar.

Spa owners vehemently oppose the claim. “This is utter nonsense. The Garra Rufa fish nibbles on the dead skin, but it has no teeth to bite or draw blood. We clean the water daily and use a UV filter. Also, the water temperature is maintained at 30-33 degree Celsius, which is not suitable for bacteria to survive,” says Shikha Chandra of Happy Feet Fish Spa. “The fish release enzymes in the water that kill many infections. Also, we always check clients’ feet for bruises or infections before accepting them,” says Jai Chandra, owner of Something Fishy spa.

“We take proper precautions and change the water regularly, we don’t even recycle it,” says Lily Yeptho from the Body Spa International.

The doctors continue to be skeptical. “I’d say no to a fish spa. Though the chances of HIV infection are rare, one can easily pick up other infections,” says Dr.Navin Taneja, director at the National Skin Centre.

Scary study
As per the study by UK-based Health Protection Agency, even though the danger of illness and bacteria being transmitted during the fish spa is very minute, there is no guarantee that the risk of the infection being passed on can be completely removed. However, the study states that if salon owners follow proper disinfectant procedures, the risk of infection can be minimised.

Online fight
The debate about the safety of fish spas is raging the world over. So much so that Ric Bertora, owner of Feet Bliss spa in St. Peter's Street, Canterbury, UK recently started a Facebook campaign to reassure customers that the treatments are perfectly safe.

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