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There's something fishy in the spas

If you are planning to get a fish pedicure, you may want to think twice, as activists and fish experts believe that while nibbling on your feet, the fish could also transmit skin infections from one person to another.


Foot for thought: While fish therapy is now a common sight in spas and even malls, experts believe that it may do more harm than good. File pic

Although the matter hasn’t yet been publicised in India, where spas in metros have only recently started offering the therapy, activists are trying to spread the word.

Vijay Avsare, an activist, has been doing research on the biodiversity of Mumbai. He came across the breeding of garra rufa, popularly known as doctor fish, for use at spas in the city.

“Spas using these fish have been banned in 14 states in the US, as they could cause transmission of diseases from one person to another. In India, however, we do not have any law that can ban the use of fish in spas, even though they may prove fatal. There are no doctors or skin specialists who know about this and we are trying to find cases of misfortune,” said Avsare.

He added that these fish are quite expensive, and are bought from the Middle East. To beat the high cost, locals have been breeding a different fish, which, unlike the garra rufa, have teeth. “These are used extensively in the spas in the city. We visited them, but the owners still claim to have garra rufa,” says Avsare.

Finding feet
Sunjoy Monga, a renowned environmentalist from Mumbai, said, “Vijay is in my team, and he is researching on the fish and marine life in Mumbai for our project. He did inform me about the garra rufa, and I do believe that they could transmit infections but I still have to know what our government can do about it. I believe as long as there are no deaths, they will not act.”

The unique procedure of fish treatment, which was developed in Turkey as a way to treat skin ailments including psoriasis, involves feet being dunked in a tank of water filled with one of two species of small fish - the garra rufa and chin chin. The hungry creatures nibble off the dead skin while leaving healthy epidermis alone.

The ecologist said, “Dermatologists have suggested that the use of fish is inappropriate, because it fails to treat the underlying cause of the skin condition. Whilst the use of fish in beauty salons may seem to be a benign eco-friendly alternative therapy, there are clearly concerns from both animal welfare, and human health perspectives.” 

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