Two people who most likely contracted HIV at a now-defunct US spa during a so-called Vampire Facial now face a lifetime of suppression therapy.
The botched treatments have the New Mexico Department of Health urging anyone who got the needle-based treatment between May and September of last year to get tested.
The department on Monday (Tuesday NZ time) announced two cases of HIV most likely stemming from the injection-related procedures at VIP Spa in Albuquerque in the US state of New Mexico. The two positive tests increased the likelihood that the HIV infections resulted from the procedure, the department said.
Drawn by the allure of transferring one's own platelets and their regenerative powers to facial skin, celebrities and others have been undergoing the cosmetic procedure over the past few years. But it must be done correctly, with properly sanitized equipment.
People who received any kind of injection at the spa, including the Vampire Facial - in which blood is drawn from a client and separated into platelets that are then applied to the face, which has been punctured with micro-needles - between those dates can be tested for free.
Authorities shuttered VIP Spa on September 7, 2018, immediately after inspectors from the health department and the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department, Barbers and Cosmetologists Board discovered unsafe practices that risked exposing clients to blood-borne infections including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
The procedure itself is safe, if done correctly, said the Cellular Medicine Association in a statement on its official Vampire Facials website. VIP Spa, the organization said, was not on a certified list of providers.
"Qualified medical professionals handle blood all day long without serious problems (in emergency rooms, in operating rooms, and in offices), and this procedure is even safer since it's done with the patient's own blood," the statement said. "Done properly, FDA-approved devices are used, and nothing in the room with one patient has on it even the possibility of one drop of blood from any previously treated patient."
Without sterile conditions, disaster can strike. While HIV suppression treatment can keep the virus to undetectable levels and prevent transmission to partners, it requires daily medication that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars over a patient's lifetime.
"But done improperly - people can be killed by cross-contamination," the Cellular Medicine Association said. "The providers in New Mexico under investigation were impostors who were not licensed to use our name 'Vampire Facial', were never licensed to use the name, were never properly trained, and were never on our list of certified providers."
The health department echoed this, advising those who opt for cosmetic services "involving needle injections" should verify that a licensed medical provider is administering the procedure.
In addition to getting tested for HIV, the New Mexico health department recommended that patients also check for hepatitis B and hepatitis C. More than 100 people have been tested already.