They warn about the health risks of injections in unregulated medical ‘spas’

When Bea Amma visited a spa doctor in 2021 hoped to receive treatments that would increase her energy and help her burn some body fat. She never imagined that she would end up with a drug-resistant infection that would leave her marked and would still be recovering more than two years later.

Amma, then 24 years old, had just moved to California with dreams of becoming an influential person in fitness and lifestyles. She was interested in getting an injection of vitamins B12 and C, as well as a compound called deoxycholic acid that was supposed to melt body fat.

“They told me that the more areas of my body they injected me with, the better,” he explains. They injected him more than 100 times into his arms, stomach and back. a combination of vitamins and fat-melting ingredients. After 24 hours, Amma felt dizzy and feverish. Each injection site, she said, was painful and oozing pus.

“Anything that touched my skin was unbearable,” she said, “I felt like my whole body was on fire.”

The risks of a new trend

The number of spas Doctors and hydration clinics have exploded in recent years, becoming a $15 billion wellness industry offering a wide variety of services, from IV therapy to skin care and cosmetic procedures.

Bea Amma said she was injected more than 100 times into her body.Courtesy Bea Amma

Federal health authorities and representatives of property owners spas Doctors are warning consumers that, along with the boom, some facilities are using unlicensed workers to inject unapproved products in unsanitary conditions.

It is difficult to know how many people have been injured in the spas doctors because infections are often not reported to local or state health departments. But some infectious disease and emergency room doctors say they are seeing more adverse reactions associated with these facilities.

Tests later discovered that Amma had been infected with a bacteria called Mycobacterium abscessus, which is found in water, soil and dust and is also often linked to cosmetic procedures that involve injections if the equipment is not properly sterilized, explains Dr. Claire Brown, an infectious disease expert at the University of California. in Los Angeles (UCLA, in English).

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The owner of the spa where Amma received her injections did not respond to a request for comment. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health investigated her case, but its results were “inconclusive.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people “who receive injections without adequate skin disinfection are at risk of infection.”

Brown, who was involved in Amma’s treatment, said her infection It was so serious that she had to be hospitalized.

“Treatments are difficult because there aren’t many good options to treat this type of bacteria,” Brown said, “It was getting worse and eventually he had to take five antibiotics.”

Federal warnings about medical spas

So-called wellness treatments, such as vitamin injections and hydrating intravenous infusions intended to cure hangovers, promise many medical benefits. “But that It doesn’t mean that any of those things have been medically proven to be true.”said Dr. Richina Bicette-McCain, an emergency physician at Baylor College of Medicine.

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned last month about reports that consumers developed serious infections and skin deformities after receiving unauthorized injections that were promoted to dissolve fat in spas doctors from all over the country.

Those injections, which are not approved by federal authorities, are sold online under the names Aqualyx, Lipodissolve, Lipo Lab and Kabelline, the FDA said.

“Some consumers received injections in clinics or medical spas by personnel who may not have the appropriate license to give the injections,” the FDA warned.

The only approved product aimed at breaking down fat under the skin is a medication called Kybella, which is usually injected under the chin to eliminate a double chin.

Bicette-McCain has treated an increasing number of people with bad reactions after visits to spas doctors or hydration clinics.

“One of the most common complications we see is infection, usually at the site of the IV placement,” he said. She has also seen patients who have suffered burns from laser treatments or who need help after failed Botox injections.

“If the toxin is not injected correctly, patients can come in with drooping eyebrows or eyelids that don’t open,” Bicette-McCain said, “We see a lot of complications.”

The FDA had warned that some spas Doctors and clinics with intravenous infusion services (including some mobile ones) were inappropriately mixing products without proper sterilization. “Contaminated or poor quality compounded pharmaceutical products can cause serious illness in patients, including death”he said in 2021.

Little supervision in medical spas

There are no federal health regulations or standard operating procedures for spas doctors, explains Alex Thiersch, director of the American Association of Spas Doctors. The facilities are under the authority of each state and all require doctors or other health professionals on staff.

However, the rule is rarely enforced, Thiersch said.

“There are states that simply do not have the resources or the time to examine medical spas and make sure they are doing things correctly,” he says.

The association he leads aims to fill the gap by providing legal and business resources to around 4,000 spas doctors in the United States, working with them to ensure they operate in accordance with state laws.

While the vast majority comply with regulations and are “very safe,” he said, the small number of spas that allow unauthorized procedures and employ unlicensed workers keeps you “up at night.” “This industry has a vulnerable point, where there are people who should not be receiving the treatment they are receiving,” she says.

“We have no words, it was so sudden”

On July 10, Jenifer Cleveland, 47, received an intravenous infusion at Amber Johnson’s The Luxe Medspa in Wortham, Texas. It is unclear what therapy she was there for that day; Her family believes she had sought vitamin injections. Around 11:30 a.m., Cleveland said she was having trouble breathing during treatment and that she felt tightness in her chest, according to attorneys for The Luxe Medspa.

Jennifer Cleveland
Jennifer ClevelandCourtesy Haley Hudson

Documents from the Texas Medical Board show that Cleveland fainted and was taken to a hospital, where she arrived at 12:17 p.m. Despite her efforts to revive her, Cleveland died less than 10 minutes later. Doctors said she had suffered cardiac arrest, which occurs when an irregular rhythm causes her heart to stop.

An autopsy, which was reviewed by NBC News affiliate KCEN in Waco, Texas, did not determine that intravenous therapy caused Cleveland’s death.

An investigation by the Texas Medical Board shows that the solution Cleveland received intravenously included total parenteral nutrition (TPN), a potent, concentrated mixture of electrolytes that doctors use to feed patients who are physically unable to consume nutrients. by themselves.

Bicette-McCain, of Baylor College of Medicine, was “surprised” to hear that any spa doctor administered NPT, as it is a mixture that must be carefully adapted to the medical needs of each patient and almost always in hospital settings to avoid electrolyte overdoses.

“It is very rare that a person needs TPN and also does not need to be under the care of a doctor,” Bicette-McCain said.

No doctors were present at Amber Johnson’s The Luxe Medspa the day Cleveland died. According to attorneys representing Amber Johnson and The Luxe Medspa, “it is unfortunate that this incident occurred, but there is no criminal liability that can or should be attributed to Amber Johnson.”

The Texas Medical Board suspended the license of the facility’s medical director for failing to “adequately supervise an unlicensed person performing intravenous treatments” that resulted in death.

Cleveland’s stepdaughter, Haley Hudson, said her family is devastated: “We have no words, it was so sudden, so fast.” Calls for greater oversight of spas doctors to ensure safety: “Something has to change.”

Thiersch, of the association of spas doctors, said it would be “a great help” if there were national standards of practice.

“This is a very safe industry,” Thiersch said, “but what’s missing is that basic level of consistency across states.”

Staying safe at medical spas

Experts urge people to ask questions when seeking treatments at medical spas:

  • Who owns and operates the medical spa?
  • Who administers my treatment and what credentials does that person have?
  • Is there a licensed doctor on site in case of complications?

“I know it’s uncomfortable to ask these questions,” Amma said. Looking back, she wishes she had looked for answers before receiving the combined vitamin and fat-dissolving injections.

Almost three years after her bacterial infection, Amma has scars and remains under intensive antibiotic treatment.

“Everything in my life has changed because of this,” he said, “who knows if I will ever be cured?”