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24 Sep 2021, Edition - 2264, Friday

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Think before you step into a fish spa

Uma Ram


Post pedicure from a renowned salon, the infection I contracted had left me back almost with OCD like symptoms towards visiting salons for beauty treatments of any kind since four years.

But after a long gap when I tried the fish spa for feet, I giggled and giggled like never before. Such was the tingling effect of the tiny creatures eating away the dead skin leaving the feet supple. But the relaxation did not last long. When I discussed the experience with a friend, she came up with an alarming story of her horrible experience post fish pedicure.

She had been frequenting a fish spa for her feet. It was then she developed rashes on her feet that went up to her knees and there were bleeding fissures on the sole. The dermatologist confirmed it to be an infection from the fish spa. The once natural body scrub-cum-polishing, manicure and pedicure ancestors had bathing in the natural water bodies is what we take nowadays in a small environment and paying heavily too.

A small tank or tub of fish of mostly garra rufa or doctor fish, the tiny toothless carp or the tiny fish from rivers and dams that nibble away the dead skin, seem to outwardly relieve us of the dead callus. But this relaxed feeling is for the time being and could give lifetime worries by spreading health ailments ranging from fungal infection like athlete’s foot to deadly diseases like Hepatitis B and even HIV.

A proper fish pedicure calls for many terms and conditions the salon needs to follow. The foremost is providing fresh new water for every customer which is a tedious process. The whole lot of fish needs to be drained out and the water replaced. But I am afraid not all spas or the fish pedicure providers follow it, especially those in malls and public places offering treatment at lesser cost which makes people throng them.

The tiny fish that eat away the dead skin are vectors of various bacterial infections of soft skin tissue as per recent studies. Other than that when the patron receiving the treatment is infected with any skin infection or deadly diseases like hepatitis B or any STD or even HIV, he or she becomes transmitters of the diseases through the water.

When the infected person bleeds in the water tank, especially when fish nibble the dead skin the water and the fish become medium to spread the deadly diseases.

The surge in the increasing number of people opting for fish pedicure is an alarm signal that it is high time we stopped this practice unless the hosts meet the hygienic norms. In many states in the US these fish pedicures have been banned legally.

The gara rufa or doctor fish and the toothless carps are proved to be vectors of bacteria vibrio vulnificus, vibrio cholerae and S agalactiae that cause soft tissue infections. Tests revealed the fish had been infected with streptococcus agalactiae (group B streptococcus), bacteria that can cause pneumonia and serious infections of bones, joints and blood in people of all ages and life-threatening infections in newborns.

Apart from this, there is the ick factor in what’s scientifically called ichthyotherapy: fish deposit their waste products in the very water people soak their feet. Moreover leaving the fish to starve to finish off the dead skin of the patrons is an alarm signals against cruelty towards animals.

However, fish-free foot-baths in a few nail salons too have been implicated in several outbreaks of non-tuberculous mycobacterial infections, including the species mycobacterium abscessus and M fortuitum, which have left customers with boils and scars and other foot infections and skin diseases.

So the question crops up of where is the best pedicure done. It is nowhere other than a DIY pedicure and manicure with your very own kit at home under the best hygienic conditions. None can care more for you than yourself.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own.

(The author of the column is Uma Ram, freelance writer from Coimbatore)

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