A pedicure is not about getting the toenails done only; it also involves the removal of calluses and dead skin from the foot. The removal of these is done through various methods which include pumice stone, a razor and scraping using a metal foot file. The metal scraper is no longer used in the salons due to liability issues but the pumice stone alone is not enough. This is where the Garra rufa fish otherwise known as ‘doctor fish’ comes in and nibbles the dead skin. Most people have undergone and are undergoing fish pedicures but scientists have reported that they carry bacteria which could bring in soft tissue infections and cause some dangerous skin infections.

The fish pedicure was introduced to the U.S. in 2008 to replace razors. People flocked the spa in the first years and the health official warned that it was not recommended for people with underlying medical conditions, anyone with open skin cuts and sores, those with a compromised immune system such as AIDS and ones with cancer in the advanced stage.

Of course the living fish deposits its waste in the water which you will soak your feet. In 2011 the British authorities discovered a bacterial outbreak from the Garra rufa fish imported for its salons. The fish had the Streptococcus agalactiae bacteria which could cause bone infections, blood infections, joint infections and pneumonia and newborns will not be spared of life threatening infections. Recently British authorities intercepted fish destined for salons and spas and carried out tests on them. There were traces of bacteria that cause S.agalactiae, vibrio cholera and vibrio vulnificus which are soft tissue infections. The problem is that these strains resist most antimicrobial medications such as the aminoglycosides and tetracycline.

The several state authorities banned the doctor fish pedicured because of several infections which include the impossibility of sanitizing or disinfecting the fish, salons are unable to clean the pedicure tubs effectively between patrons and the fact that it is a requirement that fish should be kept in an aquarium. The fish must be starved so that it feeds on dead human skin but this is out rightly animal cruelty. Until now only a handful of infections have been reported to the British authorities, while the Agencies are still evaluating the health risks of the fish pedicures although the fish therapy has been practiced for long in Southeast Asia, Turkey and India.

No published reports in the United States but the fish-free foot baths are believed to be responsible for several outbreaks of non-tuberculous mycobacterial infections characterized by scars and boils.

Some spas use other fish species such as Chin chin for fish pedicure however they have been ruled out as the best species to use because with time they develop teeth which would present a great health risk.

Is it possible to get infected from a fish pedicure?

A study carried out showed that it is possible for one to be infected from the fish pedicure. The infection can be transmitted through

  • The fish or the fish tank.
  • From another person via surfaces.
  • From the tank water.

These different areas pose different types of infections.

A. Virus Infections
Viruses found in the blood such as the HIV and hepatitis might be transmitted through the tank water. The Garra rufa fish can draw blood but though the viruses can’t stay for long on the surface the blood is likely to get dissolved in water and if the next client has an open cut or wound the increase their chances of getting infected. However the risk of catching a blood borne virus this way is low and it is recommended that clients’ should be free of any cut, open wound and abrasions before and after a pedicure session.

B. Bacterial infections
The most harmful bacteria are less likely to be transmitted because it is transmitted if one ingests the fish or is a client has a broken skin prior or during a fish pedicure. Bacterial which attack the skin can be easily transmitted. The bacteria are transmitted from boils with broken skin.

C. Fungal infections
Fungi can survive on inanimate surfaces such as floors or any other surface, for long and can pass from one client to another.

The doctor fish pedicure is not completely safe and it is not dangerous to keep you off the fish pedicure. However, if you have an open cut or wound you are at a higher risk of getting infected through the fish pedicure.