HIV charities say there is no evidence ‘fish pedicure’ spas can transmit the virus.

The Health Protection Agency said today that there is a risk of catching infections like HIV and hepatitis from the Asian beauty craze, which involves placing the feet in a basin while Garra Rufa fish nibble at dead skin.

An agency spokesman said: “We have issued this guidance because there are a growing number of these spas.

“When the correct hygiene procedures are followed, the risk of infection is very low.

“However, there is still a risk of transmission of a number of infections — this does include viruses like HIV and hepatitis.”

But HIV charities Terrence Higgins Trust and National AIDS Trust said the likelihood of catching HIV was “almost impossible”.

Deborah Jack, chief executive of NAT, accused the HPA of “misleading” people.

She said: “There is no risk of HIV being passed on through a fish pedicure and these claims do nothing but undermine public understanding.

“At a time when knowledge of HIV is declining, it is crucial for the public to be aware of the facts so they can protect themselves from real transmission risk – and not get preoccupied with sensationalist and inaccurate reports.

“We are concerned the HPA’s guidance has been misleading in terms of HIV risk and we urge them to clarify their position on this as soon as possible.

Lisa Power, policy director at THT, said: “The risk of HIV being transmitted through a fish pedicure is so small as to be almost impossible. HIV is a fragile virus once it is outside the body; it cannot be passed on via animal or insect bites.

“For transmission to occur, two successive clients would need open wounds on their feet and there would have to be huge amounts of infected blood in the water. The reality is, in this country, too many people are contracting HIV because they aren’t using condoms, not because they’re going for fish pedicures.”