Published: Wed, July 04, 2018
Medicine | By Douglas Stevenson

A Woman Lost Her Toenails After A Fish Pedicure

A Woman Lost Her Toenails After A Fish Pedicure

A woman reportedly lost her toenails after getting a fish pedicure.

In a fish pedicure, a client's feet are immersed into tanks filled with small fish called Garra rufa or "doctor fish".

The report's author said the woman had no other medical history that could be linked to her condition.

In the JAMA case, Lipner says with no other explanation for what could have caused the problems with the young woman's toenails, the pedicure seems the most likely culprit.

However, routine use of the fish for pedicures is another matter, she said, and may often cause more harm than good.

Fish pedicures have boomed since the first US fish spa opened in Virginia in 2008, Lipner claims in the paper, due to what she calls "unfounded claims" that the treatment leaves feet smoother and less pungent, removes bacteria and fungus and increases circulation.

This phenomenon, known to doctors as onychomadesis, usually results in the nail falling off long after an initial event (such as an injury) arrests nail growth. The fish used in this treatment are toothless carp fish, which are plant eaters and eat the dead human skin.

"I do not recommend fish pedicures for any medical or aesthetic objective", she told Gizmodo.

In the new case, it's not exactly clear how fish pedicures might cause onychomadesis, but it's likely that trauma from the fish biting multiple nails caused the nails to stop growing, the report said. It's a typical byproduct of hand-foot-and-mouth disease, a viral infection common in children that appears as a rash on the hands and feet, so it's unclear how the infection was spread through the fish pedicure.

As for Lipner's patient, her nails will grow back, though it'll take time.

"This case highlights the importance of skin and nail problems associated with fish pedicures and the need for dermatologists to educate our patients about these adverse effects", the report concludes. There were reports of a patient with a Staphylococcus aureus infection after a fish pedicure.

She couldn't divulge where her patient got the procedure in order to protect her anonymity but noted the treatments are popular in China.

Indeed, in 2012, researchers in the United Kingdom intercepted shipments of Garra rufa fish bound for U.K. spas and tested them for bacteria.

Here in Canada, the Vancouver Island Health Authority shut down a fish pedicure spa in Duncan, B.C.in 2011, citing concerns the pedicures could lead to the transmission of skin diseases.

Dr. Lipner also advises people against getting a fish pedicure, as the practice has been banned in 10 states in America due to health concerns. "Therefore, we will have to wait quite a while to see the outcome", she said.

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