Infections spread by acupuncture needles are under-diagnosed worldwide, according to doctors in Hong Kong.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, they call for tighter infection controls and regulation. Acupuncture is currently unregulated in the UK, but the government is consulting on the issue. The British Acupuncture Council says their members follow a strict code of conduct which includes infection control measures.
Professor Patrick Woo and colleagues, from the University of Hong Kong, argue in an editorial that acupuncture may pose risks to patients because needles are inserted deep beneath the skin, and can introduce infection.
Drawing on worldwide studies, he says there have been cases where bacterial infections have been transmitted to patients who went on to develop serious problems. They include joint destruction, multi-organ failure, flesh-eating disease and paralysis. He says acupuncture has also been associated with hepatitis B.