Last year the Sleep Education Blog reported that acupuncture is growing in popularity in the U.S. One reason people receive acupuncture is for help with insomnia.
But is acupuncture safe? An editorial published this week in the British Medical Journal expressed concerns.
The authors are from the department of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong. They wrote that acupuncture can put patients at risk for infection.
Acupuncture involves inserting needles up to several centimeters beneath the skin. This process can transmit micro-organisms to the patient.
There have been more than 50 reported cases of bacterial infection caused by acupuncture. Five outbreaks of hepatitis B virus infection also have been reported.
The authors fear that acupuncture could transmit the hepatitis C virus and HIV. But no causal links have been established.
The authors also described a new clinical syndrome called “acupuncture mycobacteriosis.” The mycobacteria are thought to be transmitted to patients by contaminated equipment. Examples include cotton swabs, towels, hot pack covers and boiling tanks.
The NCCAM reports that acupuncture is relatively safe. Each year millions of people are treated with acupuncture. And few complications have been reported to the FDA.
The FDA requires that acupuncture needles be made of solid, stainless steel. They must be sterile and labeled for single use only.
But the editorial authors think that the problem may be worse than has been reported.
“The case reports and outbreaks of acupuncture transmitted infections may be the tip of the iceberg,” they wrote.
The NCCAM reports that infections can be prevented when acupuncture is performed properly. A new set of disposable needles should be taken from a sealed package for each patient. And treatment sites should be swabbed with alcohol or another disinfectant before the needles are inserted.
Other proven treatments for insomnia are available. Both cognitive behavioral therapy and medications are effective. A board-certified sleep specialist can determine which treatment is best for you.
Contact an AASM-accredited sleep disorders center if you have an ongoing problem with insomnia.
Read more about acupuncture for insomnia.
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