Fish pedicures could spread HIV, says UAE Ministry of Health

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The UAE Ministry of Health has issued a warning advising against the use of fish pedicures, saying people who use them could contract serious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis.

Dr Amin Al Amiri, Assistant Undersecretary for Medical Practices and Licences at the ministry, told the Dubai-based Khaleej Times: "The use of these fish pose a health threat, because it may cause the spread of several diseases, and the viral infections such as hepatitis and even HIV/Aids.

"People suffering from skin diseases might infect others easily, since open wounds can contaminate the water as well as the fish that absorb the dead cells."

Al Amiri said that if used for medicinal purposes, the fish needed to be kept in tanks with UV sterlisers and automatic water changers.

The use of fish to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis has its origins in Turkey, where warm pools are stocked with a small cyprinid fish called Garra rufa, which nibbles flakes of skin from the body. The species is found in Jordan, Syria and Turkey.

Now the treatment is offered in beauty parlours around the world, including the UK. It is illegal in Texas.

Garra rufa is legally protected from commercial exploitation, but has recently been bred in captivity.

The species is difficult to correctly identify and some dealers may have been selling other species in their place.

Recent media reports have shown chin chin fish being used as a cheaper alternative for fish pedicures. These are the fry of large-growing Tilapia cichlids, and they have sharper teeth and grow much faster and larger than Garra rufa.