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Acupuncture and infection: a small but real risk

PainSci » bibliography » Woo et al 2010
Tags: acupuncture, controversy, random, manual therapy, treatment, modalities, debunkery, traditional Chinese medicine, vitalism

One article on PainSci cites Woo 2010: Does Acupuncture Work for Pain?

PainSci commentary on Woo 2010: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

What’s the harm in acupuncture? A small but real risk of infection — as with anything that breaks the skin. Acupuncture has not only failed to prove that it works, but this British Medical Journal editorial presents new evidence that it also involves a risk of mycobacteria infection, and even that “ … outbreaks of acupuncture transmitted infections may be the tip of the iceberg. The first reports of meticillin resistant S aureus (MRSA) transmitted by acupuncture appeared in 2009. The emergence of community associated MRSA infections may aggravate the problem.”

A common objection to Woo’s article has been that it is “mongers fear” and that he cites old evidence, from the 1970s and 1980s, before sterilized needles were widely used. But critics conveniently overlook that Woo also cite modern evidence of infection — about as blatant a case of biased interpretation as you could ask for. And is Woo a fear mongerer? He does not claim that the risk is great: he just reports what is known and titles his piece neutrally. It is always worthwhile to examine treatment risks, and especially when treatment benefits are also hotly disputed. It hardly constitutes “fear-mongering” to report risk data in a medical journal! If not there, then where?

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

Acupuncture transmitted infections 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.

This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights:

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