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CDC describes first known cases of HIV transmitted via 'vampire facial' injections

Three women were likely infected while getting cosmetic procedures at an unlicensed spa in New Mexico, the CDC said.
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Three women were likely infected with HIV while receiving so-called vampire facials at a New Mexico spa, marking the first known HIV cases transmitted via cosmetic injections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report Thursday.

The first HIV case linked to the VIP Spa in Albuquerque was discovered in 2018 and prompted the New Mexico Department of Health to offer free testing to anyone who got injections at the facility. The department said at the time that the spa was shut down after its investigators "identified practices that could potentially spread blood-borne infections."

The most recent case was a former client of the spa who tested positive for HIV last year, according to the health department —which led it to reopen the prior investigation.

Now, the CDC report provides new detail about the affected clients and the spa's practices.

The first case was a middle-aged woman who tested positive for HIV in 2018, the CDC said. She had no history of injectable drug use, recent blood transfusions or recent sexual contact with someone with HIV — but she did report getting a vampire facial.

Close up of dermapen tool - device equipped with fine, sterile needles to create tiny punctures in skin.
Close up of cosmetologist holding tool with needle used for dermapen treatment on patient's forehead.Tatsiana Volkava / Getty Images

The second two were also middle-aged women who had gotten vampire facials in 2018. One was diagnosed with the earliest stage of HIV in 2019, and the other in 2023, when she was hospitalized with severe symptoms.

The CDC said the spa did not have appropriate licenses to operate and was not using proper safety measures.

A joint investigation by the CDC and New Mexico Department of Health found a rack of unlabeled tubes of blood on a kitchen counter at the spa, as well as in the kitchen refrigerator, next to food and injectables like lidocaine. The investigators also discovered unwrapped syringes in drawers, on counters and discarded in trash cans. 

The spa’s owner pleaded guilty in 2022 to five felony counts of practicing medicine without a license, the health department said last year. NBC affiliate KOB of Albuquerque reported in 2022 that the owner was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison.

CDC and health department investigators ultimately determined that 59 spa clients may have been exposed to HIV. Of those, 20 had received vampire facials, a procedure also known as platelet-rich plasma microneedling. It involves drawing someone’s blood, separating out the plasma, then injecting the plasma into the face using tiny needles. The rest of the clients had gotten other injection services like botox, the CDC report said. 

People get vampire facials to plump up sagging skin and reduce the appearance of acne scars or wrinkles, but according to the American Academy of Dermatology, there’s little evidence to support those claims. The AAD says the facials appear to be safe as long as blood is handled properly.

In addition to the three spa clients who contracted HIV, the CDC identified a woman who got multiple vampire facials there in 2018 and had tested positive for HIV two years earlier. However, the investigators said the original source of the HIV contamination at the spa remains unknown.

HIV is transmitted via contact with bodily fluids from an infected person, including blood and semen, which is why it is most often contracted through sex or the sharing of needles. HIV attacks the immune system, and if left untreated, it can lead to AIDS. People with AIDS have a severely damaged immune system, making them susceptible to various infections and serious illnesses.

The CDC said in its report that spa facilities offering cosmetic injections should require proper infection control practices to prevent the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne pathogens.

The risks of cosmetic injections have also gained attention recently because of an ongoing CDC investigation into counterfeit and mishandled Botox injections.

The agency has identified 22 women who experienced bad reactions from the injections, including slurred speech, trouble breathing and blurry vision. Eleven hospitalizations had been reported as of last week.

Six patients were treated with botulism antitoxin because of concerns that the toxin in the injection could have spread beyond the site where it was administered.