First Cases of HIV Transmitted Through Cosmetic Needles Identified: CDC

Multiple people contracted human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) through cosmetic needles after receiving facials at an unlicensed spa in New Mexico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Three women who received platelet-rich plasma (PRP) microneedling facials, also known as vampire facials, at the spa contracted HIV and an investigation pointed to the facials as the method of transmission, a new paper from CDC scientists states.

The spa in question, the since-shuttered VIP Salon, was dubbed spa A in the paper.

“This investigation is the first to associate HIV transmission with nonsterile cosmetic injection services. A common exposure to spa A among clients without behaviors associated with HIV acquisition helped identify a possible cluster association, and analysis of additional data suggested that HIV transmission likely occurred via receipt of PRP with microneedling facial procedures,” said the scientists, who worked with New Mexico health officials.

The source of the contamination remains unknown, they said.

PRP microneedling facials involve taking blood from a person and separating out PRP. Then, a microneedle makes holes in the person’s skin, and the PRP is applied to the holes.

The procedure is said to help treat acne and have other health benefits.

New Mexico authorities announced in 2019 that they were investigating the VIP Spa after people contracted HIV following visits to the spa. Officials were providing free testing of any people who received treatments, including the microneedling facials, at the spa.

An inspection by authorities led to the closure of VIP Spa after the identification of unsafe practices.

Maria de Lourdes Ramos de Ruiz, former owner of the spa, was later hit with felony charges, including practicing medicine without a license. She pleaded guilty in 2022 to five counts.

“This is a warning to those who place profit over the health and safety of New Mexico consumers, and I remain highly concerned that these procedures are not being regulated at the state and federal level,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said at the time.


New Mexico officials described two HIV cases among spa visitors previously. A wider investigation identified additional patients, scientists with the state and the CDC said in the new paper.

Through calls, surveys, and other methods, authorities found five people with HIV, four of whom received microneedling at the spa in 2018. The fifth was in a sexual relationship with a spa client. Analysis of the patients’ blood showed that their cases were all related to the facility.

The cases involving the man and woman in a sexual relationship were stage 3 or chronic HIV, which suggests “that their infections were likely attributed to exposures before receipt of cosmetic injection services,” according to the scientists.

But no alternative explanations for the infections among the other three female patients were discovered.

“The other three patients in this cluster had no known social contact with one another, and no specific mechanism for transmission among these patients was confirmed,” scientists said. “Evidence suggests that contamination from an undetermined source at the spa during spring and summer 2018 resulted in HIV-1 transmission to these three patients.”

HIV is a virus that attacks immune systems and can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if not treated. Symptoms include sore throat, fatigue, and ulcers in the mouth. Most people who contract the illness are gay or bisexual. While there is no cure for HIV, it can be controlled through available treatments.

Nearly 200 other spa clients and their sexual partners were tested through 2023 as part of the investigation but none tested positive for HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C, according to the paper.

The findings highlight the importance of looking at “novel sources of HIV transmission among persons with no known HIV risk factors,” the scientists said.

They also encouraged facilities to implement practices to control infections to try to prevent the transmission of bloodborne pathogens.

Inspection Results

When the spa was inspected in 2018, authorities saw troubling practices.

Lying on a kitchen counter, for instance, were a centrifuge, a heating dry bath, and a rack of unlabeled tubes containing blood.

In a refrigerator, stored with food, authorities found tubes of blood without labels, as well as medical injectables such as Botox.

Unwrapped syringes were located in multiple places, including in drawers.

No steam sterilizer was present and certain items designed to be disposable were cleaned and reused by staffers at the spa, authorities said.

The investigation was hindered by disorganized records, including the lack of a system for scheduling appointments, according to the paper. Such systems usually include contact information for clients. Investigators combed through handwritten records and other documents to identify people who may have undergone the microneedling procedure.

“Incomplete spa client records posed a substantial challenge during this investigation, necessitating a large-scale outreach approach to identify potential cases, as opposed to direct communication with all clients,” researchers said. “Requiring maintenance of sufficient client records to ensure adequate traceback by regulated businesses that provide injection services could ensure adequate capability to conduct traceback.”

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