Acupuncture treatment may lead to transmission of bacterial infections, hepatitis B and C, and even HIV, health experts have warned.
Microbiologists at the University of Hong Kong insist that use of contaminated needles can have devastating results, reports The China Daily.
The researchers, led by Patrick Woo, microbiology professor at the University of Hong Kong, wrote: "To prevent infections transmitted by acupuncture, infection control measures should be implemented, such as use of disposable needles, skin disinfection procedures and aseptic techniques."
Acupuncture requires insertion of fine needles at specific points in the body to promote the flow of "Qi" or energy for the treatment of problems such as obesity, constipation and arthritis.
The experts pointed to a new syndrome called acupuncture mycobacteriosis, as needles are inserted up to several centimeters beneath the skin.
They wrote: "This is an infection caused by mycobacteria that rapidly grow around the acupuncture insertion point as a result of contaminated cotton wool swabs, towels and hot-pack covers. There is a long incubation period but the infection usually leads to large abscesses and ulcers."
"So far, more than 50 cases have been described globally. In most cases ... bacteria were transmitted from the patient's skin flora or the environment because of inadequate skin disinfection before acupuncture," they added.
The researchers further emphasized bacterial infections can result in joint destruction, multi-organ failure, flesh-eating disease and paralysis.
They concluded: "Although no clear evidence exists to support a link between acupuncture and HIV infection, there are reports of patients with HIV who had no risk factors other than acupuncture."
The study has been published in the British Medical Journal.