|Dec. 24, 2002. 01:00 AM
Number rises from 12 to 20 Acupuncture clinics still closed
The number of patients infected with a rare skin disease at two acupuncture clinics has jumped from 12 to 20, says Toronto's medical officer of health, Dr. Sheila Basrur."This infection is unsightly and annoying but not likely fatal, unless you are severely immuno-suppressed," Basrur said yesterday.Seven city health officers have been working full-time to reach the 130 patients who received acupuncture treatment at the clinics on Bathurst St. in North York and also in a private residence on Islington Ave. between last April and this month, she said.The patients are being told by Toronto Public Health that they should get tested for HIV, hepatitis B and C, and a skin infection called Mycobacterium abscessus."We've now reached about 80 per cent of them," Basrur said of the patients who live in Toronto. She said she could not provide statistics for patients who live outside the city.Eighty-seven live in Toronto, 25 in York Region, eight in Peel and the rest are scattered around southern Ontario, she said.Clinic operator Sandra Testaguzza could not be reached for comment yesterday.Her clinics were verbally ordered closed on Dec. 13, and this was followed up with a written order last Thursday, Basrur said.The clinics will remain closed until public health officers are convinced that proper infection-control practices are in place, she added.A provincial government spokesperson said the Ministry of Health is moving toward regulating Ontario's estimated 10,000 acupuncturists, but he said he could give no estimate on when this will happen."There are definite plans for regulating acupuncture," Dave Jensen said yesterday."We're establishing an advisory committee.... I can't give you a definite timetable, but we're moving forward with this. It'll take some time because we want to do this right."The process was well in place when news broke about the infections at the Toronto clinics, he said.Meanwhile, established acupuncturists have levelled withering criticism at the provincial government, saying they have been trying for years for some minimum standards for training and regulation.Toronto acupuncturist Luheng Han said patients in Greater Toronto get a false sense of security when they see certificates on the walls of clinics stating that acupuncturists have a "holistic licence."