Blood Transfusions for Beauty: Risky Practice Kills One in China

by Marisa Amorasak

Bathing in the blood of a virgin, rib removal, corsets, and even tire rubber injections for a bigger bum: it’s no secret that humans will go through a lot to amp up their attractiveness. In Hong Kong, China, some beauty parlors offer a special blood transfusion procedure that promises to restore the youth and good looks of aging women. Despite many doctors’ warnings that blood transfusions are not proven to make cosmetic improvements, it remains a desirable treatment for some Chinese women. Recently, headlines declared that one woman actually died from complications related to a beauty blood transfusion. With several more women in the hospital after undergoing blood transfusions, lawmakers are calling for a ban.

Blood Transfusion Benefits

Blood transfusions are an important part of the medical field. They replace lost blood in the case of surgery or serious trauma, and can even replenish blood in people whose illnesses make them unable to do so. Recent studies have shown some benefits of using blood transfusions to help extend the lives of people living with HIV and other life-threatening conditions. In the Western hemisphere, a small number of illegal clinics practice the art of blood transfusions for cosmetic purposes. Promising fewer wrinkles, smoother skin, and a tighter tummy, blood transfusions are particularly hot in countries without strict medical laws.

In Hong Kong, cosmetic blood transfusions involving taking blood from a person, processing it, and then returning it into their blood stream. The exact processing system is unclear;it involves concentrating and changing the makeup of the blood. The Hong Kong Health Department described it as "concentration and processing of blood taken from the person, and subsequent infusion of the mixture back into the patient." The idea is that when returned into the patient’s body, the blood is purer.

Hong Kong Woman Dies After Promises of Youth, Wellness

A 46-year old Hong Kong woman was pronounced dead approximately one week after undergoing a beauty blood transfusion at a local clinic. She was admitted to a hospital just hours after the treatment. The woman, identified by her surname of Chan, complained of a high fever and diarrhea. Doctors quickly diagnosed her with septic shock, or severe infection that can cause total organ failure. A few days later, Chan’s doctors said that her blood was infected with the rapidly-growing mycobacterium abscessus. She died soon after.

One doctor insists that mycobacterium abscessus isn’t usually life-threatening. "It's common, it's widespread. It can be found in dust and soil and water. People often come into contact with a small number of this bacteria and it's of no harm at all unless you have a wound," said Ho Pak-leung, President of the University of Hong Kong's Center for Infection.

But it looks as though Chan’s infection had spread into her blood. "For blood infection involving internal organs, it's very difficult. It has to involve multiple drugs given at the same time and there are uncertainties about the effectiveness of the treatment," Dr. Ho told CNN.

Three other women in Hong Kong have been hospitalized with similar complaints. Their ages range from 55-60 years old. Many Chinese citizens and international lawmakers have voiced their frustration at China’s healthcare laws, which they say should ban these types of blood transfusions for the sake of beauty. In the hands of doctors, they can save lives—but when taken up by salon owners trying to make a quick buck, lives are at stake.

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