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20-10-2011 | Article

‘Fish pedicures’ unlikely to cause infection


HPA guidance

MedWire News: The risk of infection associated with so-called "fish pedicures" is likely to be very low, UK scientists believe.

However, people with weakened immune systems - such as individuals with psoriasis - should not have the pedicures, warns an expert working group set up by the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

Fish pedicures involve putting the feet in a tank containing dozens of Garra rufa fish. These are tiny, teethless fish, about the size of minnows, which suck and nibble away at dry and dead skin, leaving the feet softer and smoother.

The pedicures are popular in Asia and Europe but have been banned in some parts of the USA over health concerns. Fish tank water has been shown to contain a number of microorganisms, and there is a potential for infections to be transmitted among the fish, tank water, and individuals having the pedicure.

To investigate these concerns, the HPA - an independent UK body tasked with protecting the public's health - asked a group of experts to review the evidence and produce guidance for spas offering the treatment.

The group concludes that people with weakened immune systems or underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or psoriasis, should not have fish pedicures in view of the increased risk of infection.

The group specifically recommends that operators of beauty spas should not promote fish pedicures to these groups.

Furthermore, fish pedicures should also be avoided by anyone with cuts, grazes or other infectious skin conditions.

Dr Hilary Kirkbride, from the HPA, said: "Provided that good standards of hygiene are followed by salons, members of the public are unlikely to get an infection from a fish spa pedicure, however, the risk will be higher for certain people."

The Agency says there are various measures people can take to reduce the risk of infection - both to themselves and others. These include allowing cuts or infections on the feet and leg to heal before having a fish pedicure; waiting at least 24 hours after having a leg wax or shaving; and seeking medical advice if ill effects occur after the treatment.

Dr Paul Cosford, director of Health Protection Services at the HPA, added: "As with any beauty salon, it's really important that strict standards of cleanliness are followed, to ensure that the risk of infection is kept to a minimum. If a member of the public is concerned about the level of cleanliness of a salon they visit, they should report this to their local Environmental Health department."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2010

By Joanna Lyford