Canada: More Than 1,100 People Need Blood Tests After Illegal Acupuncture in Montreal

On Monday, Quebec health officials said they are contacting more than 1,100 patients of a woman who practiced acupuncture in Montreal following the recent discovery that the needles she used during treatment were not properly sterilized. The department is asking them to have a blood test for HIV and hepatitis. Even thought the risk of infection from HIV or hepatitis B and C during acupuncture is "virtually nil," there are no guarantees, said Dr. John Carsley, head of infectious diseases for the Montreal Public Health Department.

Letters are being sent to 1,071 of the 1,144 patients who went to Suzanne Sicotte for acupuncture between 1979 and last January, and authorities are seeking addresses for the 73 other patients.

Carsley said Sicotte was an osteopath by training but offered acupuncture to some clients. Osteopaths work with their hands to treat musculoskeletal and other physical problems including repetitive strain injury. Sicotte has a Swiss diploma in acupuncture, according to her attorney, Marc Plamdon, but was not a member of the professional order that represents acupuncturists in Quebec. "In the circumstances, our client regrets the inconvenience suffered by her clients as they verify the state of their health," said Plamdon.

Since April 2003, acupuncture needles can be used only once by acupuncturists who are members of the province's professional order. Previously, acupuncture needles had to be sterilized with heat before they could be reused. But Sicotte only dipped the needles into a chemical solution to sterilize them, said Carsley. After a client questioned her sterilization procedures, she was fined $7,000 and is no longer practicing, said Raymond Bourret, head of Quebec's acupuncture association. Sicotte's illegal practice had escaped detection because she neither joined the professional order nor placed advertisements, said Bourret.