This story has been making the rounds online–

Unlicensed Acupuncturist intentionally infects patients with HIV

Unlicensed Acupuncturist Charged In 16 HIV Infections In Switzerland

Swiss acupuncturist charged in 16 HIV infections

Swiss “healer” accused of intentionally infecting 16 people with HIV using acupuncture needles

— I only have the details you all can see there. Im not exactly sure what to make of this.

Long-time readers of ERV might expect me to do a post on how a psychotic woo-meister used his powers of woo to kill people, the trust people put into woo-ers who are uneducated charlatans vs physicians who spend years and years and years of their lives becoming experts…

But Im not.

Because without more details, I dont actually believe this story.

Here is the problem:

The man who is not HIV positive himself…

You all know Im not one for defending woo-ers, ‘unlicensed’ or not (lol, does it matter whether you have a made up degree in a made up topic?), but I dont get how what this man is accused of is possible, in light of the fact he is not HIV-1 positive.

The irony of HIV-1 is that safe inside the warm confines of the human body, it kills millions of people every year, it evades every drug treatment strategy we throw at it, it laughs in the faces of our attempts at vaccines.  Outside of the human body, however, it is a total wuss.  You look at it sideways and it falls apart.

Thats why the rumor that terrorists were planting ‘HIV infected’ bombs was stupid.  There is no way HIV would survive as an infectious agent through all of that.

The reason why people can become infected via IV drug use is that 1) people are sharing needles.  There isnt very much time between one person shooting up and the next.  And 2) a needle one uses for shooting up can hold blood.  A droplet of HIV infected blood can sit in a needle, protected from oxygen.

Do you see where this story isnt making sense?

The man accused of infecting these people with HIV-1 is not HIV positive.  He would need to stick an infected person, and then immediately stick an uninfected person, if this was going to even have a chance of working as a psychotic murderous plan.  And, he was using acupuncture needles, not syringe needles.  There is nowhere for an HIV infected droplet to hide from the drying effects of oxygen.  So he couldnt just infect a whole bunch of needles while no one was around, and then use them whenever he wanted to infect people.  The blood would dry, and the HIV would be dead.

And ultimately, this is like a murder case where they cannot find the weapon, and they cannot connect a weapon to the accused murderer.  Where is the HIV-1 infected individual this man was supposedly getting the HIV-1 from?  What is his connection to this HIV-1 positive individual?

No motive.  No weapon.  And from my perspective, no viable explanation for how this murderous plot was carried out.

An equally (if not more) valid hypothesis is that one of the students was HIV-1 infected, either through sex or IV drug use, and spread it to the others, either through sex or IV drug use.  A local ‘hot spot’ of infection you could (can) see in bars where lots of sex/drugs is going on (Ive read papers on different individuals getting infected by the same person on/near the same night).  And now their teacher is their scape-goat.

I dont know.

But without more details, I cant ‘convict’ this guy from a scientific perspective.


  1. #1 Bob Powers
    September 3, 2012


    As usual, you raise the standards of actual skeptical thinking back to where they ought to be.

    And that right there? Is a lesson in and of itself.

    Still, it’s an interesting thing: we humans love to jump to the more insidious “conclusion” rather than face the actual facts. Were it not so, this story never would’ve got any traction.

  2. #2 Acleron
    September 3, 2012

    Yes, good thinking. I’d dismissed on the basis of a murdering individual crops up anywhere but I’d have been more interested if he had accidentally done it as an example of the dangers of acupuncture. But from your analysis, it probably didn’t happen at all.

  3. #3 dustbubble
    September 3, 2012

    It’s been over ten years since the cops cleared Needle Park in Zurich (hour-and-a-half drive from Berne center).
    It was pretty bad, by all accounts, and worst of all didn’t bloody work.
    So they brought it indoors, and even started prescribing, like they used to do when I was a kid.
    They seem to have got The Virus rate down, possibly.

    I just wonder , seeing as how the first complaint was got up only three years after the parks and so on were cleared, and how people were being encouraged to adopt new, “healthier” activities, clean themselves up, and so on, in what exact demographic this clown’s acolytes originated?

  4. #4 levi
    September 3, 2012

    Acupuncture is not woo – its traditional Chinese medicine and has been around for thousands of years. There is plenty of evidence based research to back up its benefits.

    You are likely right about the HIV transmission comments tho:

  5. #5 renem
    September 3, 2012
  6. #6 Handles
    September 3, 2012

    Levi, the woo part of acupuncture is all the ‘traditional chinese’ stuff. It doesnt actually matter where you stick the needles, and it doesnt matter if you dont stick them in “properly”, you still get the benefit:
    It seems quite likely that acupuncture works via the placebo effect. Thus, it works quite well for diseases with a strong psychosocial component, such as back pain. For diseases which are more physiological such as cancer or infection, the benefit is close to zero.

  7. #7 nastes
    September 4, 2012

    From what I found in german and swiss newspapers, the selfstyled Accupuncutre/Healer supposedly used blood from HIV positiv persons and the stabbing was not necessarily done by accupuncture needles, probably a syringe. None of the victims knows with what he did it, only that they were stabbed with something. Some claim that they have been drugged by him. Still no motiv though. Seems an nice person to have around, according to one article he also threatened to kill his wife.

    From a (in general) reliable german newspaper:

    Take care,

  8. #8 nastes
    September 4, 2012

    sorry @orac was supposed to be @ERV

  9. #9 Poodle Stomper
    September 4, 2012

    @Levi, Yes, acupuncture is woo based on faulty assumptions about how the human body works.

    @ERV, maybe we’d get a better idea if they sequence the various viruses from the 16 HIV+ people. We’d expect them to be more closely related to each other if they’re telling the truth, right?

  10. #10 ERV
    September 4, 2012

    Poodle– Well, if one person ended up (either directly or indirectly) infecting the rest, all 16 will look similar too.

    I think maybe you could sequence lots of genomes from each person. If one person did it, they would be the root and everyone else would be a branch. But I dunno what time-frame we are dealing with here, exactly…

  11. #11 Wendy Smith
    September 6, 2012

    Interesting comments on an interesting original blog. My thoughts, since one commentator DID have more knowledge about the matter, is that apparently no one saw him do the dirty deeds of infecting people. It must have been done while they were laying on their stomachs. If so, how do we know for sure it was the acupuncturist that did it? It could have been done before or after their therapy visit, by some other person or means, and then blamed on him. Competition, anyone?

  12. #12 pornalysis
    December 5, 2012

    Don’t forget the obvious: many people who cannot afford all of those ‘experts’ often resort to holistic medicine because it’s cheaper.

    And–because most of the people that so-called science attracts are trapped in traditional-box thinking–don’t forget that many drug and addiction clinics and out-patient facilities ( often funded by the state) try non-traditional medicine as a way to introduce street people to the strange idea of “being cared for.”

    Or, in short, who were ALL the people in the sample? where did they come from in a socio-economic sense?

    But either way, based on personal experience, i think you are dead wrong about what you presume is ‘woo’–or at the very least, you have never suffered a malady that forced you to look beyond traditional medicine.

    A simple example of the woo that you might well buy into is yoga….

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