Vampire Facials Confirmed as Cause of At Least Three HIV Infections 

Vampire facial

A joint investigation by the CDC and the New Mexico Health Department has confirmed that an unlicensed medi-spa is responsible for at least three cases of HIV.

The first case was a middle-aged woman who tested positive for HIV in 2018. She had no other risk factors: no history of injectable drug use, no blood transfusions, and no recent sexual contact with someone with HIV. She did tell public health investigators that she’d gotten a “vampire facial” at VIP Spa in Albuquerque.

What are Vampire Facials?

Vampire facials are the nickname of a procedure called platelet-rich micro-needling. Blood is taken from a person’s arms and then put into a machine that separates out the platelets from the rest of the blood products. The platelets are then injected back into the person’s face with tiny needles.

The procedure was originally developed for bone grafting and osteoarthritis. It has not been approved by the FDA as a skin rejuvenator. Spas who provide this service say that it plumps the skin, fills in fine lines and acne scars, and makes a person look younger. The American Academy of Dermatology, however, says there is no evidence that vampire facials work.

Medical establishments that work with blood need to take universal precautions to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-born illnesses. These include careful handling of blood, wearing gloves, not sharing needles between patients, and sterilizing equipment between patients.

VIP Spa was not following these protocols. Public health investigators found equipment containing blood on the kitchen counter; unlabeled vials of blood next to food in the fridge; and unwrapped, potentially already used needles in drawers, on counters, and in the trash. The spa also did not appear to have an autoclave, which is a steam sterilizer needed for cleaning equipment between clients.

How HIV is (and isn’t) Transmitted

HIV is not easily transmitted. While some STIs are transmitted from skin-to-skin and some viruses are transmitted via respiratory droplets in the air, HIV requires direct contact with blood, semen, or other bodily fluids.

Moreover, intact skin can provide a barrier to HIV, and the virus only remains infectious outside of the body for a couple of hours. People cannot get HIV from casual contact such as touching door handles, using the same toilet seat, or sharing food.

People can, however, get HIV from contaminated needles. In fact, it’s one of the most efficient ways to transmit the virus. This is why sharing needles for intravenous drug use is dangerous, and why health care providers who are accidentally stuck while treating HIV-positive patients need to use PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) to help prevent infection. This is also why it can be unsafe to undergo procedures that involve needles or blood anywhere other than in a fully licensed medical facility.

As part of their investigation, the NM Department of Health and the CDC continue to offer free HIV testing to anyone who had been a client of the spa. The CDC identified two additional cases of HIV transmission (one woman diagnosed in 2018 and another in 2023) and found 59 people who may have been exposed to HIV during vampire facials or other cosmetic procedures. Over 200 spa clients were tested with no additional infections, however.

The spa was shut down after the first HIV case was discovered, and the owner later pled guilty to practicing medicine without a license. He was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison and 4 years of probation.

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