Safety concerns over use of eels in beauty treatments

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The latest beauty treatment using fish involves the customer being fully immersed in a tank of small eels - and there are fears that some of the eels could end up where they shouldn't be, after one entered a man's penis during treatment...

Fish pedicures using Garra rufa have been around for a while. But now spas in Europe are offering a new full body treatment that's popular in China, which uses a tankful of eels, each about the width and length of a pencil, to nibble on and exfoliate the skin.

But there are risks — especially if you wear loose-fitting swimsuits — health and safety consultant Wendy Nixon told a conference hosted by the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health (CIEH), the body which represents health inspectors.

Zhang Nan from Hubei province in China was undergoing just such a beauty treatment two years ago when he felt a severe pain and realised one of the eels had gone into the end of his penis, where it then worked its way up his urethra and eventually ended up in his bladder. Doctors spent three hours removing the 15cm/6" Asian swamp eel (Monopterus albus). The fish was dead when they retrieved it.

PFK covered this story at the time, when surgeon Jin Wang, who performed the operation, explained that the eel’s slippery body greatly facilitated its unwelcome entry.

"The diameter of the urethra in a man's penis is just a little narrower, but because eels are quite slippery, its body worked as a lubricant and so it got into the penis smoothly," he said.

Fish pedicures have actually lost popularity in the beauty industry, but they're starting to turn up at festivals and fairgrounds and even in places like gyms, according to Wendy Nixon.

"Anyone involved in these sorts of treatment should have at least a very minimum national occupational standard at a level-two pedicure unit," she said.

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