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Saskia v. Popescu, MPH, MA, CIC, is a hospital epidemiologist and infection preventionist with Phoenix Children's Hospital. During her work as an infection preventionist she performed surveillance for infectious diseases, preparedness, and Ebola-response practices. She is currently a PhD candidate in Biodefense at George Mason University where her research focuses on the role of infection prevention in facilitating global health security efforts. She is certified in Infection Control.

Vampire Facials: Poor Infection Control Results in 2 Cases of HIV

MAY 03, 2019 | SASKIA V. POPESCU
Vampire facials are a fairly new beauty trend that conjure images of youthful skin, blood, and medical spas. One thing that doesn’t usually come to mind when thinking about the trendy spa treatment is HIV. Unfortunately, this will likely change as 2 clients of a medical spa have tested positive for HIV following this injection-based skin treatment.

Vampire facials mix microdermabrasion and application of platelet-rich plasma, which is pulled from the client’s blood. Clients seeking this treatment have their own blood drawn, which is then run through a centrifuge to isolate platelets, which are then applied to the face following microneedling or microdermabrasion. The facial has been reported to boost collagen and elastin in the skin for a more youthful look. 

Unfortunately, there is a lot of room for error in the process, especially in the private settings of a health or medical spa, where regulatory oversight might not be as stringent. What transpired recently at an Albuquerque spa highlights the risks involved with this procedure.

The New Mexico Department of Health is conducting an investigation and working with clients who received a vampire facial at the VIP Spa in Albuquerque after 2 individuals who underwent the procedure between May and September of 2018 were diagnosed with HIV, CNN reported.

The health agency noted that “Additional laboratory testing on specimens from the 2 clients indicates recent infection with the same HIV virus, increasing the likelihood that the 2 HIV infections may have resulted from a procedure at the VIP spa.”

The spa was closed following a September 2018 inspection that identified processes that increased the risk of transmitting blood-borne pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis C. 

The likely source of exposure is a failure to use disposable equipment for the microneedling or improper sterilization of equipment. When microneedling tips or syringes are reused, the chances of infection greatly increase. Although those seeking to perform the treatment should be licensed medical providers, many clients may not realize the importance of actually seeing the individual administering the treatment open new, sterile components to the needle pens. 

More than 100 patients have been tested as the state health officials continue to offer free HIV and hepatitis B and C virus testing at 2 sites. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that such treatments or health spas have come under fire for potentially dangerous practices. The use of any kind of bodily fluid or an invasive procedure that breaches the skin or mucous membrane puts a person at risk. Moreover, as these kinds of procedures become increasingly common and popular, the concern is that regulatory control and oversight to ensure compliance with health codes and cosmetology accreditation will be challenged with strained public health resources. 

In the event you might be interested in such a procedure, make sure the spa is registered and/or licensed and that you observe the medical provider or technician using sterilized and/or new injection components. Each state has different regulations for what can be performed and by who at these health spas, so do your research to stay safe. 
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Big advances in treatment can't make up for an inability to stop new infections, which number 5,000 per day worldwide.
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