Intended for healthcare professionals


Acupuncture transmitted infections

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 19 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1268
  1. Patrick C Y Woo, professor,
  2. Ada W C Lin, specialist,
  3. Susanna K P Lau, associate professor,
  4. Kwok-Yung Yuen, chair of infectious diseases
  1. 1Department of Microbiology, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  1. pcywoo{at}

    Are underdiagnosed, so clinicians should have a high index of suspicion

    Acupuncture, which is based on the theory that inserting and manipulating fine needles at specific acupuncture points located in a network of meridians will promote the harmonious flow of “Qi,” is one of the most widely practised modalities of alternative medicine. Because needles are inserted up to several centimetres beneath the skin, acupuncture may pose risks to patients. One of the most important complications is transmission of pathogenic micro-organisms, from environment to patient or from one patient to another.

    In the 1970s and 1980s most infections associated with acupuncture were sporadic cases involving pyogenic bacteria.1 So far, more than 50 cases have been described globally. In most cases, pyogenic bacteria were transmitted from the patient’s skin flora or the environment because of inadequate skin disinfection before acupuncture. In localised infections, meridian specific and acupuncture point specific lesions were typical. About 70% of patients had …

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