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Skin disinfection and acupuncture
  1. Peter Hoffman, clinical scientist
  1. Central Public Health Laboratory, phoffman{at}


    The need for skin disinfection before insertion of an acupuncture needle is controversial and there is no specific research on this topic. However research and observations on the effect of, and the need for, skin disinfection before injections forms a good analogy of acupuncture. Whilst micro-organisms present on the surface of the skin are accessible to disinfection, those located under the surface in ducts, glands and follicles are out of reach and can be inoculated into the sterile tissues below by needle insertion. Fortunately, the bacteria resident on the skin have a low potential to cause infection if host immunity is not severely impaired or compromised by the long-term presence of foreign material, such as a surgical stitch. Disinfection of clean skin before injection is not generally considered necessary and observations of lack of infection following injections without prior skin disinfection support this; however, contamination by micro-organisms not normally resident on skin can pose a higher risk of infection. If skin is visibly soiled, it should be washed and if needle insertion is near an infected or contaminated site, it should be disinfected with alcohol.

    Practitioner hand hygiene between patients is important, even if gloves are worn. Hands should be washed with soap or detergent and water, or an alcohol handrub can be used if hands are physically clean.

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