Fish pedicure may be dangerous

Prague health officials warn against the touristy procedure

The touristy center of Prague is filled with massage shops offering pedicures with Garra fish, but Prague hygienists warn the procedure may be dangerous.

The procedure takes a few minutes, and people put their feet in a large tank filled with the fish, who eat dead skin from bare feet. The tanks are often in the windows of the massage shops that have become ubiquitous downtown.

According to the most recent report of the Prague Hygienic Station, the procedure is not safe. "The risk of transmission of infection from fish to humans or from humans to humans (through water and fish), or from the water itself, cannot be excluded. Therefore, I cannot recommend such a procedure,” Jan Jarolímek, director of the Prague Hygienic Station said on the station's website.

According to the latest research, the procedure is not only dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, but also for patients with psoriasis. Published studies show that fish can be carriers of atypical mycobacteriosis, which can cause skin damage and can transmit fungi.

The water in the tank cannot be chemically disinfected due to the presence of the fish, and the fish cannot be disinfected, as is required by hygienic regulations for tools used in pedicures. The water itself can contain a variety of bacteria and fungi. Complete sterilization is not possible because the fish would die. In some countries, fish are used only individually for one customer, but that is not the case in Prague.

The UK's Health Protection Agency has published a study on Garra fish that mentions the very slight possibility of transmission of HIV and hepatitis B. The risk of transmission in fish aquariums is very negligible, unlike the transmission of other infections. This does not mean, however, that this activity can be recommended, the Prague hygienic website states.

The Prague Hygienic Station has not yet received a complaint about this activity. According to the experience of the Prague hygienists, the fish pedicure is mainly used by foreign tourists who leave Prague soon after the procedure. On the other hand, the use of Garra fish has been banned in countries including some states and provinces in the US and Canada.

Garra rufa, also called doctor fish, nibble fish, kangal fish, and bonefish is a small species of cyprinid fish that is native to rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes in the Anatolia and the Middle East, according to Wikipedia. They are legally protected from commercial exploitation in Turkey due to concerns of overharvesting for export.

Since the early 21st century, they have been integrated into a spa treatment. While the treatment has been found to alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis, the treatment is not a cure, and no cure for psoriasis currently exists.

The use of the fish as a spa treatment for the wider public is still widely debated on grounds of efficacy and validity. For treatment of skin diseases, aquarium specimens are not well suited as the skin-feeding behavior fully manifests only under conditions where the food supply can be scarce and unpredictable, Wikipedia adds.

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