‘Vampire Facials’ and HIV Transmission

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A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigator offers insights into their investigation of customers receiving vampire facials (a spa cosmetic procedure) and contracting the virus afterwards.

The CDC provided an update on their ongoing investigation of the link between a spa treatment for customers who received platelet-rich plasma with microneedling, or what is also referred to as vampire facials, and the transmission of HIV. The latest findings were published last week in the CDC’s MMWR.

According to the federal agency, there has been multiple HIV infections among people with no known HIV risk factors who received these vampire facial procedures at 1 spa in New Mexico. CDC confirmed that 4 spa customers, and 1 sexual partner of a spa customer, all received HIV diagnoses during 2018–2023.1

It is important to note these cases were linked to just 1 facility, the VIP Spa, which was located at 809 Tijeras Avenue, NW Suite B, Albuquerque, New Mexico.2 The spa was closed down back in 2018, shortly after the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) was made aware of the potential connection between these facials and HIV.

“This is the first instance that we're aware of, of HIV transmission due to unsterile cosmetic injection services, so we would say the risk is generally very low,” Anna M. Stadelman-Behar, PhD, MPH, epidemiologist, CDC, and an investigator on the case. Stadelman-Behar credits local clinicians who quickly alerted public health officials of the potential medical issue.

“The strong relationship between the New Mexico Department of Health and the providers within New Mexico who were alerting the Department of Health of these patients was such a defining characteristic of this investigation,” Stadelman-Behar said. “The providers were the reason we kick started the investigation.”

The Investigation and Infection Prevention
Although the investigation began back in 2018, the CDC has kept the investigation open due to the lack of records maintained by the spa owner as well as the patient population who contracted HIV and the possibility more people may get diagnosed. The last known diagnosis was in 2023.

"It is important to remember that this is a group of individuals that did not have risks or behaviors associated with HIV acquisition,” Stadelman-Behar said. “So they weren't regularly testing. [They] were in monogamous relationships. They didn't have injection drug use and they had no risks—so this was a total shock to them.”

Stadelman-Behar points to the lack of infection control that likely led to the infections.

The spa owner did not have the appropriate licenses, and did not know how to uphold infection control practices. And that was really the main thing that led to transmission of HIV at this spa,” Stadelman-Behar said.

She also says there are steps for people who are seeking these procedures to feel more safe. “If they're seeking cosmetic injection services, they can check that their provider is licensed to perform those services,” Stadelman-Behar said. “Another thing that people can do if they're getting a cosmetic injection service is observing the [cosmetic] provider opening the needles in front of them, opening the vials, making sure the vials are labeled appropriately with their name and date of birth in case any specimens are collected. And then lastly, if there's any doubts or concerns, I always encourage people to ask their provider about the procedure or any infection control practices that they're doing.”

References

1. Stadelman-Behar AM, Gehre MN, Atallah L, et al. Investigation of Presumptive HIV Transmission Associated with Receipt of Platelet-Rich Plasma Microneedling Facials at a Spa Among Former Spa Clients - New Mexico, 2018-2023. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2024;73(16):372-376. Published 2024 Apr 25. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7316a3

2. NMDOH Recommends Clients of VIP Spa in Albuquerque Receive Testing for Blood-Borne Infections. NMDOH news statement. September 18, 2024. Accessed May 1, 2024

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