Thinking of using fish pedicures? Think again.

From: “Dr. David Scarfe”
Date: 28 November 2012 20:08:08 AWST
Subject: AquaVetMed: Fish Pedicures & Possible Zoonotics

November 28, 2012
Agency warns of dangers of fish pedicures

In 2008, a pedicure trend swept the nation: tiny fish eating the dead skin off customers’ feet. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that the “doctor fish” may carry bacteria that could cause serious infections. Shortly after the fish pedicures began, public health agencies spoke out against the practice, and California, Florida and several other states banned it. Texas banned such pedicures in 2008.

The CDC published a report Wednesday by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science in the United Kingdom, which studied the kinds of bacteria carried by the doctor fish, Garra rufa, an inch-long silver carp native to Southeast Asia.
“To date there has been only limited information on the types of bacteria associated with these fish,” lead researcher David Verner-Jeffreys said. “Our study identified some of the species of bacteria associated with this fish species, including some that can cause infections in both fish and humans.”

It’s no secret that water provides a breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria. Mix that with bacteria living on fish scales or in their waste and even the tiniest cut from an overzealous doctor fish, and the risk of infection is very real. Doctor fish are generally imported to salons from Indonesia or Malaysia, which can make it difficult to control the quality of the fish breeding and environment.

After an outbreak of strep bacteria last year in a shipment of the fish, the British government seized five containers from London Heathrow Airport to study what kinds of bacteria the fish were carrying. “The [strep] strain we isolated typically only causes disease in fish,” Verner-Jeffreys said. “We then went on to look at other consignments of apparently healthy imported G. rufa and found some other species of bacteria that can cause disease in humans and fish.” These bacteria included Aeromonas, which causes wound infections and gastrointestinal problems in humans; Streptococcus agalactiae, which causes skin and soft-tissue infections; and Mycobacteria, which the study reported have been responsible for skin infections in some pedicure clients in the U.K.

The researchers also found that these bacteria are often resistant to multiple drugs and therefore difficult to kill. “To date, there are only a limited number of reports of patients who might have been infected by this exposure route,” the report says. “However, our study raises some concerns over the extent that these fish, or their transport water, might harbor … pathogens of clinical relevance. It should be emphasized that neither us nor the [British] Health Protection Agency are advising that the practice should be banned,” Verner-Jeffreys said. “Any risks may be reduced by use of disease-free fish reared in controlled facilities under high standards of husbandry and welfare.”

See the source ( for the full story.

[The information referred to in this news story is neither a CDC or a CEFAS “Report.” It is actually a letter to the editor from David W. Verner-Jeffreys (CEFAS, UK), published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, 18 (6), June 2012. It is accessible at ADS-Mod]
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