Acupuncture treatment link to deadly virus

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The Independent Online
HEALTH officials have warned a London medical centre to stop treatment involving needles after an obscure form of acupuncture was linked to an outbreak of the potentially deadly Hepatitis B virus.

Three patients have already contracted the virus and Barnet Health Authority in north London is trying to contact around 100 other patients of the Finchley Alternative Medical Centre to see if they are infected.

The acupuncture method, known as haemotherapy, has become fashionable in some complementary medicine circles and has attracted patients to London from across the world. The treatment involves injecting drops of the patient's own blood through a hole made by an acupuncture needle.

The authority said: "We would emphasise that no connection has yet been proved but we do know that the centre uses a homoeopathic treatment where a drop of the patient's blood is extracted and then re-injected through the site of an acupuncture needle after being treated in a saline solution."

In usual acupuncture practice, needles are sterilised by being kept in an autoclave at 121C for 15 minutes. Many acupuncturists only use single- use needles.

A spokeswoman for the authority said it had no powers to close the centre but officials from the Health and Safety Executive had visited the centre to decide whether to issue a prohibition notice. She later said that the centre had voluntarily agreed to stop all acupuncture and haemotherapy.

Hepatitis B is a virus strain which causes a potentially fatal infection of the liver. It has a fatality rate of between 6 and 20 per cent, whereas that of Hepatitis A is 1-2 per cent. It has an incubation period of 100 days or more and is transmitted by the transfusion of contaminated blood or by the use of contaminated needles. It is a particular threat to drug users or those having tattoos.

The scare began on Monday when the centre notified health officials that Hepatitis B had been identified in three patients, two from Birmingham and one from Oxford. The centre is legally required to report any evidence of communicable diseases to its health authority.

The centre is in an area noted for its wide range of alternative medicine clinics, acupuncturists and health food outlets. It was emphasised that clients of centres nearby were not at risk.

The centre yesterday refused to discuss the outbreak. A woman there said: "It is none of your business and you are not coming here. The health authority told us not to talk to any newspaper."

Last night many experts in Chinese and complementary medicine and acupuncture said they had never heard of haemotherapy.

John Parkinson, a spokesman for the British Acupuncture Council, said: "This is just not a standard technique. There is a common core of techniques which the majority of acupuncturists use regularly. Then there are a vast range of supplementary techniques which stem from the thousands of years of use in China."

Dr Bisong Guo, an expert in Chinese traditional medicine who advises the Institute for Complementary Medicine, said she had not come across the treatment either.

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