Wearing gloves shouldn’t be optional

Dr. Farolyn McSweeney, the president of the Nevada State Board of Oriental Medicine, likes to tell people “you can never be too careful” when it comes to the possible spread of infections.

Yes, she initially comes across as an individual who would do all she could to prevent patients or practitioners from suffering the consequences of not following the highest standards of infection control during medical procedures.

“You can’t assume anything,” she says in explaining why she uses disposable, single use needles.

Well, I watched her do an acupuncture procedure recently on a patient with a bad back –– she stuck his back full of needles and pulled them out with her bare right hand –– and one thing is clear: Nobody can accuse her of being too careful.

But you can accuse her of assuming everything will always work out all right because “so little blood and bodily fluids” are involved in her work.

“I did acupuncture on patients with HIV and AIDS in San Francisco without gloves and there was no problem,” she explained.

Is that the kind of judgment we want exercised by someone heading a medical board, a committee that approved the curriculum for the new Wongu University School of Oriental Medicine in Las Vegas?

Nobody is more surprised by McSweeney’s technique than state epidemiologist Dr. Ihasan Azzam, the man who investigates the causes of disease in Nevada and tries to prevent them.

He said acupuncturists should adhere to universal precautions stressed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and wear sterile gloves during needling to prevent infections.

“Acupuncture breaks the integrity of the skin –– the risk of infection, while not small, is not zero,” he said, adding that the wearing of sterile glovers for procedures with needles should be a “no-brainer.”

So what is McSweeney’s reaction to what Azzam had to say?

“I wouldn’t be opposed to it (wearing gloves) if a law was written,” McSweeney said last week. “I might grumble a little bit.”

Though she admits some acupuncturists wear gloves, she says others might find it difficult to insert needles with them.

Oh, come on. Surgeons wear gloves while doing microscopic surgery on a baby’s heart.

She also said acupuncturists might complain wearing gloves interferes with feeling a patient’s “palpitations” or with regulating chi –– vital energy.

“If they think gloves would get in the way of chi, then maybe they should do acupuncture naked,” said Joe Cool, who, like all tattoo artists in Clark County, must wear gloves and use disposable needles to prevent infection.

Keep in mind that the World Health Organization –– concerned about recent hepatitis outbreaks –– recommends acupuncturists wear gloves. And that in 2010 Consumer Reports, reacting to 80 people worldwide contracting hepatitis B through acupuncture, wrote: “Safe practitioners of acupuncture use disposable needles, wear gloves and work in clean premises.”

It also should be pointed out that in 2005, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration –– acting on a question about acupuncture on VA patients from the Department of Veterans Affairs, noted that because “it would seem likely that some bleeding would occur with the extraction of multiple acupuncture needles … gloves must be worn.”

Incidentally, last Wednesday, Dr. Ramu Komanduri, chief of staff for the new VA hospital in Southern Nevada, said gloves are worn there during acupuncture and that hands are washed and new gloves put on between patients.

Azzam doesn’t think new laws are needed.

“We shouldn’t have to regulate the obvious,” noting other state medical boards hold doctors accountable.

Both Doug Cooper, executive director of Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners and Barbara Longo, executive director of the Nevada State Board of Osteopathic Medicine, said doctors are expected to follow universal precautions and could expect discipline if they didn’t follow them.

The oriental board of medicine headed by McSweeney holds no such expectations.

If board members believe infectious disease prevention protocols are too onerous for acupuncturists to follow, it’s time for them to step down before innocent people get hurt.

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at
pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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