Jan. 9, 2003. 01:00 AM
28 infections tied to needles
Four patients have rare bacteria Therapist working from her home


There are now 28 suspected skin infection cases linked to an acupuncturist who allegedly used improperly sterilized needles, the Toronto public health unit reports.

The health unit has identified 149 clients who visited acupuncturist Sandra Testaguzza. Eight public health units have been called in to help contact all patients who visited her two clinics between April 1 and Dec. 16, said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, director of communicable disease control at Toronto Public Health.

Once contacted, patients are told to immediately visit their physician to receive tests for HIV, hepatitis B and C, and the skin infection, as they may have been exposed to improperly sterilized acupuncture needles.

Only four of the 28 cases of Mycobacterium abscessus, a skin infection that is rarely seen in humans, have been confirmed through laboratory tests, Yaffe said. Raised, red, lumpy lesions, sometimes with pus, appear on the skin as a result of the bacteria. It is treatable with a prolonged course of antibiotics.

Testaguzza has two clinics, one on Bathurst St. in North York and the other in her Islington Ave. home.

Her lawyer said she is currently operating out of her home. Testaguzza was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Yaffe said Testaguzza "fully complied" with board of health orders surrounding her practices.

Acupuncture is an unregulated profession in Ontario; anyone can hang up a shingle and call themselves an acupuncturist.

In late December, York University cut its ties with Testaguzza.

Joseph Levy, professor at York University's School of Health Policy and Management, said Testaguzza is no longer on the board of the Wellness Centre, which runs health seminars, yoga nights and classes on subjects such as meditation.

"We just thought it was prudent on our part not to have her affiliated with us until it was settled," Levy said. "She's a very fine lady. I liked her. I found her very professional."

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