'Vampire Facials' May Have Exposed People to HIV and Hepatitis

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This article was updated at 5:20 p.m. ET.

A spa in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that offers "vampire" facials may have exposed clients to blood-borne infections, according to a statement from the New Mexico Department of Health.

The so-called vampire facial is a type of spa treatment that involves smearing a person's own blood on his or her face, according to Allure. Proponents claim that the treatment improves skin health and reduces wrinkles and sun damage. [Body Enhancement Nightmares: The Top 10 Crimes Against Nature]

Officials conducted an inspection of the facility, called VIP Spa, after one of its clients contracted a blood-borne infection that may have come from a spa procedure performed there. During the inspection, they identified unsafe practices that may have put clients at risk.

One of the main ways to spread an infection like this is through "needlestick-associated transmission," or being pricked by an infected needle, said Dr. Michael Landen, the New Mexico State Epidemiologist at the New Mexico Department of Health. This can occur from improper needle storage, handling and disposal, he said.

The New Mexico Department of Health has since shut down the spa and is urging any of its clients who received a vampire facial or other injection-based treatments in May or June of this year to get tested for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C for free at the Midtown Public Health Office. The statement does not mention which of these infections the client contracted, nor which specific treatment the individual had received.

"This is all very early in the investigation and we don't have anything definitive at this point," Landen told Live Science. But "we're concerned and we're encouraging people ... who had any injection-related service from the VIP spa" to be tested.

During a vampire facial, a person's blood is drawn and then spun in a centrifuge to separate out platelets, or blood cells that help with clotting. These platelets are suspended in the blood's plasma, which is the liquid portion of blood.

One of two procedures follows: Either tiny needles are used to prick the skin of the face (called micro-needling), or the outer layer of the skin is sanded down (called microdermabrasion). Finally, the platelet-rich plasma is applied to the face, according to Allure.

The statement doesn't mention which specific practices might have led to infections. But hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV can all be spread through contact with bodily fluids, including blood. The owner of VIP Spa is also encouraging clients to get tested, though she told local news station KOB 4 that she always used new needles during the treatments.

The spa's license, however, turned out to have expired in 2013 and had not been renewed, according to KOB 4. Because the spa didn't have a traditional appointment scheduler, officials are unsure how many people had such procedures performed there, Landen noted.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 5:20 p.m. ET to include quotes from the New Mexico State Epidemiologist.

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.