May 26, 2024

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HIV Infections Linked to Unlicensed Spa’s Vampire Facial Treatments

HIV Infections Linked to Unlicensed Spa’s Vampire Facial Treatments



HIV Infections Linked to Unlicensed Spa’s Vampire Facial Treatments

Three American women infected with HIV after receiving platelet-rich plasma micro-needle therapy at an unlicensed spa.

At an unlicensed spa in New Mexico, at least three women have been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) due to “vampire facial treatments.” According to a detailed report on the outbreak investigation published today, this is the first time in the United States that a medical cosmetic procedure has been associated with an HIV outbreak.

 

HIV Infections Linked to Unlicensed Spa's Vampire Facial Treatments

image source: CDC

The outbreak was reported last year, with state health officials announcing that despite the spa’s closure in September 2018, they had identified related cases. However, today’s investigative report provides more information about this unprecedented outbreak, linking five HIV cases to the spa and prompting investigators to contact and test nearly 200 other spa clients. The report is published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The investigation began with a 40- to 50-year-old woman who underwent rapid HIV testing during international travel in the summer of 2018, with a positive result. She experienced acute HIV infection stage one. The result was both shocking and distressing. The woman had no apparent risk factors for infection: she did not inject drugs and had no history of blood transfusions. Fortunately, her current and most recent sexual partner tested negative.

She reported receiving a “vampire facial treatment” at a spa named VIP Spa in Albuquerque in the spring of 2018. This treatment is a colloquial term for platelet-rich plasma micro-needle therapy. In this therapy, the patient’s blood is drawn, centrifuged to separate plasma from blood cells, and then the platelet-rich plasma is injected into the face using micro-needles. This therapy is claimed to rejuvenate the skin and improve its texture, and it has been heavily promoted by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian.

The woman’s case led investigators to VIP Spa, which was a triple whammy of unlicensed practices: no license, no appointment system, and no record-keeping of client contact information. During an inspection in the fall of 2018, health investigators found shocking conditions: unsealed syringes in drawers and on countertops, unlabeled blood containers on kitchen countertops, unlabeled blood and medical injectables next to food in the kitchen refrigerator, and reusable tips for a single-use dryer. The facility didn’t even have an autoclave, a pressurized oven used for sterilizing equipment.

The spa was quickly shut down, and its 62-year-old owner, Maria de Lourdes Ramos De Ruiz, was charged with practicing medicine without a license. In 2022, she pleaded guilty to five charges and is currently serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

The second spa client was another 40- to 50-year-old woman who tested HIV-positive during a screening in the fall of 2018 and was diagnosed in early 2019. She had also received a vampire facial in the summer of 2018. Her HIV infection was also in stage one. Investigators raced against time to track dozens of other clients, many of whom were native Spanish speakers. The next two cases were not diagnosed until the fall of 2021.

The two cases diagnosed in 2021 were sexual partners: a woman who received three vampire facials at the spa in the spring and summer of 2018, and both she and her male partner were infected with stage three HIV, progressing to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The severity of the infection indicated that both individuals were infected before the woman’s spa visits in 2018. Health officials found that the woman had tested positive in a HIV screening in 2016 but had not reported receiving notification of the result.

Health officials reopened the outbreak investigation in 2023 and identified the fifth confirmed case in the spring of 2023, also a 40- to 50-year-old woman who had received a vampire facial in the summer of 2018. Her infection had progressed to stage three, requiring hospitalization for AIDS.

Genetic sequencing of the virus in these five cases showed that the infections were closely related. However, due to the unsanitary and contaminated conditions of the facility, investigators were unable to determine exactly how the infection was transmitted at the spa. Investigators reported that a total of 198 spa clients underwent HIV testing between 2018 and 2023.

The authors acknowledged, “Incomplete spa client records posed a significant challenge in this investigation, necessitating large-scale outreach to identify potential cases. However, the investigation findings underscore the importance of identifying potential new sources of HIV transmission in populations without known risk factors for HIV infection.”

Visit the CDC for more information

HIV Infections Linked to Unlicensed Spa’s Vampire Facial Treatments

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