One Hong Kong woman is dead and three more have been hospitalized after they received a "beauty" treatment that is usually reserved for cancer patients.
A 60-year-old remains in critical condition, a 56-year-old woman is in serious condition, and a 59-year-old woman is stable, CNN reports.
CNN reported that it has not been confirmed whether the deceased 46-year-old woman or any of the victims had been diagnosed with cancer, but the Hong Kong Health Department said in a previous statement that they had been in "good past health."
The four women had underwent a DC-CIK intravenous treatment, which was billed as a "platelet rich plasma," at a DR Medical Beauty Group location on Wednesday, China Daily reported. They were taken to the hospital after complaining of deep headaches and diarrhea.
It was later determined that they were diagnosed with septic shock, a life-threatening blood infection that causes extremely low blood pressure according to the National Institutes of Health. Their blood samples contained the bacterium Mycobacterium abscessus. While it is normally found in water, soil and dust, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report it often contaminates medications and medical products and can cause serious infections.
DC-CIK (cytokine-induced killer cells) is a form of plasma therapy used in metastatic cancer, the Independent reported. The blood transfusion, which the women each paid about $6,450 for, is known to help improve the survival rate of cancer patients after chemotherapy, radiation or surgery.
However, the clinic billed the procedure as a way to get rid of wrinkles and revitalize the skin. The company claimed that "growth factors" could be released from the platelets through a laboratory procedure. Patients who underwent the therapy had their blood removed, treated and reinjected into them.
"This treatment involves concentration and processing of blood taken from the person, which is subsequently infused back to the patient. According to investigation, the treatment was provided by a registered medical practitioner," a spokesperson for the Hong Kong Health Department said to China Daily.
The DR Group confirmed in a statement to China Daily that the treatment was conducted by certified doctors at an independent clinic affiliated with their organization, and that the women's medical history was checked before they had their blood transfused. They insisted that their version was a beauty treatment, not a medical procedure.
Thirty-one out of the 45 patients who underwent the procedure at a DR Group location have been notified. Authorities are urging people who may have undergone something similar to see a doctor if they experience symptoms.
The DR Group also offers a stem cell treatment created from a person's fat tissues that is also injected back into the host.
Dermatologist Chung King-lueh told China Daily that these procedures should only be done in a hospital.
"No one would do it in a clinic because we know it risks blood contamination by bacteria," Chung said.
Hong Kong's Health Minister, Dr. Ko Wing-man, told the Independent that harsher regulations may need to be put in place. As of now, the Hong Kong's Health Ministry does not have the authority to regulate beauty salons.
"I do not rule out the possibility of the need for legislation, or an amendment to the current law to pin down those high-risk medical therapies," he stated.
The Regional Crime Unit of Hong Kong Island and the Hong Kong Health Department are investigating both the treatment centers and a laboratory in Tai Po which was supposed to have prepped the patient's blood for the procedure, China Daily reported.