Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Here's another reason to avoid alternative medicine (besides the quackery). I always thought, as alt. med. goes, acupuncture and acupressure has the most credibility, since it has the virtue of age (thousands of years), and some medical support (some of the acupressure points correspond to known nerve junctions in the body). A new article in Journal of Clinical Microbiology (abstract only without subscription) notes;

Emerging Infection Associated With Acupuncture

Researchers have identified a previously undetected bacterial infection that can occur as a result of acupuncture. With the gaining popularity of acupuncture as a form of alternative medicine there is a need to increase awareness of these types of bacterial infections say researchers from the Queen Mary Hospital and Hong Kong University-Pasteur Research Centre in the April 2002 issue of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

Clinicians already know that patient-to-patient infections, such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, can be caused as a result of acupuncture. In the study, the researchers identified bacteria, known as mycobacteria, already present on the skin as a major cause of infection. Even with the standard protocol of needle sterilization and skin cleaning, this type of infection can still occur.

"These mycobacteria are well known to be relatively resistant to disinfectants," say the researchers. As a result, the standard use of alcohol to clean the skin before injection will not be an effective tool in preventing this type of infection. "The existing infection control guidelines for acupuncture may need revision."

(Patrick C.Y. Woo, Kit-Wah Leung, Samson S.Y. Wong, Ken T.K. Chong, Elim Y.L. Cheung, and Kwok-Yung Yuen. 2002. Relatively alcohol-resistant mycobacteria are emerging pathogens in patients receiving acupuncture treatment. J. Clin. Micro. 40.4:1219-1224.)

This research is just another warning to people infatuated with the notion of alternative therapies; there are pitfalls out there, and the relatively untrained practitioners of this quackery may not be prepared to deal with them.