A children's hospital in eastern China has stopped using a traditional Chinese medicine treatment after 92 child patients developed severe skin reactions.
Patients at Jiangsu Province Children's Hospital developed painful blisters and itchy, peeling skin after being treated with a form of cupping therapy known as sanfutie last Friday and Saturday, the hospital said in a statement on Tuesday.
Photos circulated on social media showing young children with dark red, blotchy patches on their backs. In some cases, the skin was blistered, peeling and weeping pus.
The hospital said 881 children underwent the treatment, which involves the application of a herbal paste to the skin which is then covered by glass cups. The cups are heated to create suction.
The treatment is traditionally applied during the hottest periods of the year, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, to treat a variety of illnesses, as well as to improve circulation.
"Our hospital will continue the follow-up treatment and diagnosis of the side effects of children who were treated with sanfutie and actively cooperate with authorities and experts to analyse the cause," the statement said.
An official from the Jiangsu Provincial Health Commission told online news outlet Red Star News that its experts were currently working with the hospital to determine the cause of the children's reaction to the treatment.
"Medicine must be as objective as science. The investigation needs to have a due process, especially when finding the reason behind the side effects," the official said.
Parents of many of the affected patients told Red Star News they had responded to an online advertisement by the hospital last month, which offered the 400 yuan (US$58) treatment as a remedy for respiratory diseases, digestive illnesses and weak immune systems in children.
"The main point was that they claimed it could cure these illnesses, so that's why we came," one anonymous parent was quoted as saying.
Others claimed their children's wounds did not heal for several days after the treatment, and that it caused fevers and severe pain in some cases.
Now, parents are demanding that the sanfutie treatment be tested for toxic ingredients and harmful side effects, as well as compensation from the hospital, according to Red Star News.
Cupping gained global recognition when elite US swimmer Michael Phelps competed in the 2016 Olympics with red circular marks visible on his torso. While it remains a popular alternative health treatment in many parts of the world, and particularly in China, there is little scientific evidence to prove it has any health benefits. Many critics have condemned cupping as pseudoscience.
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