A day spa in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was shut down nearly six years ago following a state health department investigation into the facility’s unregulated practice of ‘vampire facials’. Recently, a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed five suspected cases of HIV linked to unsanitary procedures carried out at the spa. This brings to light the critical need for rapid contact tracing and the regulation of invasive treatments to prevent public health crises.

In the summer of 2018, the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) initiated an investigation after a woman tested positive for HIV following a facial procedure at the unlicensed spa. The vampire facial, which involves extracting platelets from a patient’s blood and reinjecting them into the skin using microneedling, is a popular but controversial treatment claiming to improve skin health. Despite limited scientific evidence supporting its benefits, the procedure has gained popularity for its alleged anti-aging properties.

By the spring of 2023, the NMDOH had identified four female clients of the spa and a male sexual partner of one of the women who tested positive for HIV. The earliest infection was detected in 2016, with one individual hospitalized three years later with an illness commonly associated with AIDS. The investigation uncovered numerous unsanitary practices at the spa, including storing blood and injectables in a kitchen refrigerator alongside food, using unwrapped syringes, and lacking a proper sterilization system. These practices created a breeding ground for infections and highlighted the dangers of unregulated procedures.

Medical practitioners in the US are required to have a license to perform procedures involving blood extraction and reinjection. However, the spa owner in this case did not possess any of the necessary licenses and failed to maintain proper client records. This lack of oversight not only hinders the investigation into the spread of infections but also poses a risk to the health and safety of clients. Without accurate records, it is challenging to determine the full extent of the damage caused by the spa’s negligence.

Spa owner Maria de Lourdes Ramos De Ruiz pleaded guilty to five counts of practicing medicine without a license in 2022. As a result, she received a jail sentence and was ordered to pay restitution to those infected by her unlicensed practices. This case serves as a stark reminder of the importance of regulatory compliance in the healthcare industry and the consequences of operating outside the bounds of established standards.

The outbreak of HIV cases linked to unregulated ‘vampire facials’ at an Albuquerque day spa underscores the dangers of unlicensed and unsanitary practices in the beauty and wellness industry. Public health authorities must prioritize stringent oversight and enforcement to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. Clients should also be vigilant in selecting reputable and licensed providers for cosmetic procedures to ensure their safety and well-being.

Health

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