When we think of spas, we often think of them as zen, safe spaces where we can relax and rejuvenate while getting pampered.
Most of us don’t enter one thinking it would be the cause of our troubles for the next few years. Or worse, the cause of irreversible medical damage.
Sadly, this unexpected nightmare was true for one woman in Australia, named Victoria Curthoys.
What is a fish spa or fish pedicure?
If you don’t know what a fish spa is, it’s essentially a form of foot therapy where customers dip their feet into a bowl of water filled with a species of fish known as Garra Rufa, or “doctor fish”. These omnivore creatures tend to feed on plankton in the wild, but when starved, can also consume the dead skin cells on humans.
This process, otherwise called a “fish pedicure” typically leaves one’s with baby smooth skin.
How the nightmare happened
Unbeknownst to 29-year-old Victoria Curthoys, a life-altering event was about to take place when she stepped foot into a fish spa in Thailand while on vacation.
She thought nothing of it throughout the entire process, but soon after returning home, she started experiencing intermittent fever a chills and this lasted an entire year. Unable to bear with the discomfort any longer, she visited the doctor and they eventually found the source of her problem.
She suffered a reinfection from a previous toe injury she had when visiting the fish spa, and the new infection had went through her old wounds. Her big toe was promptly amputated, though this was only the beginning of the long-drawn medical predicament.
She fell sick again, and doctors didn’t believe her
After the first amputation, Victoria assumed that life for her would resume as normal. However, things went further downhill when it was discovered that a “raging infection” was starting to spread and affect her second toe.
According to a report by Daily Mail, Victoria was sick for two years after the initial surgery. She told the magazine, “‘I was healthy for another two years, I thought I was very lucky to still have my foot and carry on with my life. But then I started to get sick again.”
She also shared that she vomited every morning and experience frequent fevers, but when sharing her symptoms with doctors, they did not see any signs of infection and told her that it was “all in her head” for a lengthy period of time.
Eventually, her podiatrist ordered blood samples and that’s when they discovered another bone infection, as well as the fact that Victoria’s white blood cell count was exceedingly high.
By 2016, she had gotten three of her toes amputated, leaving only her last, small toe. This left her walking with a constant pressure on the small toe, which she said had kept getting knocked into as well.
“After a few more blood samples and X-rays, they discovered another bone infection, so they finally took the last toe in November 2017,” she added. The unfortunate saga left her entirely toe-less on one foot.
A young doctor warns against the dangers of fish spas
Sharing Victoria’s story as a cautionary tale to users, a General Practitioner, Samuel, highlighted for us just how unsafe these spas may be.
The Foot Spa you have always seen and wondered if it is completely safe. Fair to say – While the general population may be unaffected / experience no side effects – best to reconsider these types of spas if there are any open wounds or a compromised immune system. #publichealth #newfearunlocked #atyourownrisk #learnontiktok #learningisfun #medtok #medicaltiktok #skingapore #familymedicine #gpsamuel #doctorsamuel #drsamuelgp #doctorsoftiktok #tiktokdoctor #singaporedoctor #tiktokusa #tiktoksg #tiktokaustralia #tiktokthailand🇹🇭 #fishspa #garrarufa #fish #ofishial #fishspas #foot #feet #amputation #amputee #footspa What is a fish spa ? Is a fish spa safe ? #footreflexology #reflexology #notmedicaladvice #notsponsored #notendorsing #underthesea
He explains that in a normal foot spa, workers can sanitise equipment used between customers. But in the case of a fish spa, this hygiene practice is just not possible.
“You can’t sanities the fish or the water in between people, which explains why she got shewanella,” he said.
Samuel stated that in addition to this, one can also get fungal infections, streptococcal infections (which are known to cause strep throat, scarlet fever, and impetigo, to name a few), and mycobacterial infections (which are frequently known to trigger lung symptoms).
Moreover, the young doctor claims that fish spas have a bad reputation for engaging in animal abuse practices.
The bottom line: don’t visit fish spas if you have any wounds, or your immunity is presently compromised. Also, whenever you sense something fishy with the salon or spa you’re in, it’s better to stay err on the side of caution.
Featured image credit: Victoria Curthoys/MDW Features, @skingapore/TikTok