30 patients contract tuberculosis after visits to the same acupuncture clinic

Add another drawback to acupuncture: possible infection with primary inoculation tuberculosis. That does not sound good. A new paper is published showing a correlation of acupuncture and electrotherapy with onset of a form of tuberculosis.

PLOS ONE: Analysis of 30 Patients with Acupuncture-Induced Primary Inoculation Tuberculosis.


Primary inoculation tuberculosis is a skin condition that develops at the site of inoculation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in tuberculosis-free individuals. This report describes the diagnosis, treatment and 1 year follow-up of 30 patients presenting with acupuncture-induced primary inoculation tuberculosis. Our data provide a deeper insight into this rare route of infection of tuberculosis. We also review effective treatment options.

The study looked at 30 patients who had primary inoculation tuberculosis. They had all received acupuncture and electrotherapy treatment from the same clinic in Wenzhou City, China. Even the same clinician is mentioned. Luckily none tested positive for HIV. The study notes that the injection materials were disposable but the lesions that appeared on the patients have been linked to locations of electrotherapy, possibly from bacteria on the pads used, that got into the blood from small skin wounds. Yet, a test of the pad was negative.

In general, there were seven confirmed patients in this cutaneous tuberculosis outbreak while the rest twenty-three were supposed to be suspected patients.
[…] All 30 patients had onset of primary inoculation tuberculosis within 1 to 3 months of the acupuncture procedure.
[…] The use of Chinese acupuncture needles which are able to deeply penetrate into the tissues surrounding tendons and nerves provide an ideal route for the inoculation of tuberculosis. The patients in our outbreak underwent acupuncture twice daily for two weeks. This high degree of potential exposure may explain why there were no cases of spontaneous healing. It was also possible that patients with self-healing of skin lesions had ignored their short-lasting symptoms and became the so called ‘non-incident’ patients.

One of the main conclusions of the study is that the tuberculosis bacterium can spread easily in these conditions; acupuncturists should develop better procedures to address this risk.

Acupuncture has not been shown to be beneficial. Now, additional risks have been added. So, there IS potential harm, however rare, to sticking needles into your skin. The harm outweighs the zero benefits.

You can read the entire study at the above link, it’s public. But note the skin lesions are not pretty.

Credit: SFSBM

  4 comments for “30 patients contract tuberculosis after visits to the same acupuncture clinic

  1. August Pamplona
    June 26, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    «Most patients linked the lesion sites to electrotherapy. Therefore, it was speculated that the occurrence of tuberculosis infection might have resulted from the introduction of tubercle bacilli from the electrotherapeutic pads, into soft tissues via small skin wounds. However, culture of samples from the four electrotherapeutic pads appeared negative. Accordingly, it was impossible to determine the source of contamination.»

    Mycobacteria can be very difficult to culture. PCR (or TB-LAMP) might have been a better choice but it is likely the test was not easily available.

  2. Desiree
    July 3, 2014 at 7:38 AM

    In the United States it is law and practice to swab an acupuncture point with 70% isopropyl alcohol before needling it. While I do not know if this is the law in china, where needle reuse has historically been an issue, I do know that there are no tens pads used in electro acupuncture. Alligator clips are clamped to the needles to transmit the pulse deep into the muscle or point. So transmission via tens pad is not a possible factor.

    Also, you’re discussing an outbreak stemming from one clinic. That’s like saying that all spinach has e.coli, when only one batch in the middle of Indiana was contaminated. Any commnincable disease can spawn an outbreak from any facility wether it be a medical clinic or a Taco Bell.

    If you’re going to discuss micro bacterial infections precipitated by needle insertion, would you like to talk about infections stemming from IVs and syringes in hospitals?

    Lastly, please do your homework before you say acupuncture has no benefits. Even if we only assess individual acupunctre points and biomedical markers, acupuncture has been proven to increase white blood cell count, decrease prostaglandin (inflammatory) production, and decrease blood pressure. That’s just the start. You cannot call yourself a journalist if you have no idea what you’re reporting about, what facts look like, or how to intrepret a study.

  3. July 3, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    The outbreak signals it can happen in other places due to similar procedures. It’s a risk – a huge risk. Don’t even compare a viable medical procedure like IVs and syringes to nonsense like electroacupuncture. The risk/benefit is NOT comparable. And hospitals do make an effort to fix these errors.

    I almost trashed this because of the “Do your homework bit”. DON’T EVER post that here. It’s obnoxious. I’m not a journalist, this is a media criticism site, not a newspaper. (Do YOUR homework). This is a science-based site; therefore I go by what actual experts say.

    Want my credentials? Here. Then, go pound sand somewhere else. No nonsense allowed here.

    Acupunture studies –> Science-based medicine

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