Patients Contracted HIV from 'Vampire Facials' at Unlicensed Spa

Following an investigation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded that three patients contracted HIV at an unlicensed spa while undergoing “vampire facials.”

At least three patients who received platelet-rich plasma facials, also known as “vampire facials,” contracted HIV due to contamination from an undetermined source at an unlicensed spa in New Mexico in 2018, according to a report from federal authorities.

This is the first time transmission of HIV through cosmetic injection services via contaminated blood has been documented, according to the CDC.

“Although transmission of HIV via unsterile injection practices is a known risk, determining novel routes of HIV transmission among persons with no known HIV risk factors is important,” the CDC said in its report. “This investigation identified an HIV cluster associated with receipt of cosmetic injection services at an unlicensed facility that did not follow recommended infection control procedures or maintain client records.”

According to the report, in the summer of 2018, the New Mexico Department of Health was notified of a diagnosis of HIV infection in a woman with no known HIV risk factors, including no injection drug use, recent blood transfusions, or recent sexual contact with anyone other than her current sexual partner, who had received a negative HIV test result.

However, she had reported exposure to needles from cosmetic platelet-rich plasma microneedling facials at a spa in the spring of 2018. That’s when an investigation into the spa’s practices began, revealing that four former spa clients, and one sexual partner of a spa client, all received diagnoses of highly similar strains of HIV between 2018 and 2023.

Platelet-rich plasma facials, or “vampire facials,” involve drawing blood from a client, separating the blood into its components of plasma and cells, and using single-use or multi-use sterile needles to inject the platelet-rich plasma into the face. The facial is done for cosmetic purposes, such as skin rejuvenation or reducing the appearance of acne scars.

The investigation revealed that the spa, which closed in the fall of 2018, operated without appropriate licenses at multiple locations and did not have an appointment scheduling system that stored client contact information.

By 2023, five patients with HIV had been identified, including four women and one man who was a sexual partner of one of the four women patients and never received any services from the spa. Tests confirmed that all the patients had spa–related cases.

However, the CDC said the two patients who were in a sexual relationship had stage 3 or chronic HIV infections, indicating that their infections were likely attributed to exposures before receipt of cosmetic injection services.

The other three patients in this cluster had no known social contact with one another, and no specific mechanism for transmission between these patients was found. Evidence, therefore, suggests that contamination from an undetermined source at the spa during the spring and summer of 2018 resulted in HIV-1 transmission to these three patients.

During the investigation, an on-site inspection of the spa revealed multiple unsafe practices, including a centrifuge, a heating dry bath, and a rack of unlabeled tubes containing blood on a kitchen counter. Unlabeled tubes of blood and medical injectables, such as botox and lidocaine, were also found stored in the kitchen refrigerator along with food.

Unwrapped syringes were also found in drawers, on counters, and discarded in regular trash cans. A steam sterilizer was not found on site, and procedure equipment was merely surface cleaned using ammonium chloride disinfecting spray and benzalkonium chloride disinfecting wipes after each client visit. Disposable electric desiccator tips were cleaned by alcohol immersion and then reused on other patients.

The investigative team was not allowed to collect specimens from the spa, but the CDC said the evidence supports the likely transmission of HIV through poor infection control practices.

This agency says the cluster could be even bigger and potentially include other people with undiagnosed HIV infections or with a diagnosis of infection but no available sequence for analysis.

“This investigation underscores the importance of determining possible novel sources of HIV transmission among persons with no known HIV risk factors,” said the CDC. “Requiring adequate infection control practices at spa facilities offering cosmetic injection services can help prevent the transmission of HIV and other bloodborne pathogens. Maintenance of client records could facilitate investigations of suspected transmission at such facilities.”

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