Check out this study from the British Medical Journal I found via the BBC: Acupuncture Infection 'link'. The BMJ editorial can be found here: Acupuncture Transmitted Infections.
Now, some caution should be applied when viewing the results - sample sizes and case studies are small and relatively rare respectively, but the article does point out that the results may be the tip of the iceberg, these are only reported cases after all and acupuncture in the UK, for instance, is unregulated. And how much acucpunture treatment in China, for example, is closely followed and monitored by science based medicine and reporting?
Anyway, to throw back in the face of the "What's the harm even if it doesn't work" and the "It does work and it isn't dangerous like your western medicine" people here's some sobering quotes from the BMJ editorial:
So far, more than 50 cases have been described globally.... In localised infections, meridian specific and acupuncture point specific lesions were typical. About 70% of patients had musculoskeletal or skin infections, usually in the form of abscesses or septic arthritis, corresponding to the site of insertion of the acupuncture needles. A minority had infective endocarditis, meningitis, endophthalmitis, cervical spondylitis, retroperitoneal abscess, intra-abdominal abscess, or thoracic empyema.
As in other musculoskeletal or skin infections, Staphylococcus aureus was the most common bacterium responsible, accounting for more than half of the reported cases. Although most patients recovered, 5-10% died of the infections and at least another 10% had serious consequences such as joint destruction, paraplegia, necrotising fasciitis, and multiorgan failure.
The study in the BMJ also cites risks of Hepatitis B and C infection as well as the potential for infection with HIV.
Now I'm sure the alties will shoot back with hospital infection rates and surgery death rates and if they do they are merely reinforcing one of the points raised in the BMJ editorial. We know the rates for science based medicine because it is heavily regulated and monitored, but we don't have the same monitoring and regulation for acupuncture so they aren't comparing like with like - and what we do know suggests they really don't have much to shout about since the little information we do have suggests there is a problem, and one that isn't being monitored closely enough and might therefore be worse than it appears.
And yet, and here's the kicker, the alternative medicine industry doesn't want regulation, they don't want to be closely monitored, they regularly resist efforts to introduce regulation, they harp on and on about their own standards and training and how they don't need outside interference. Lo and behold, that is basically the line taken by those interviewed in the BBC article.
I think we begin to understand why they resist now, don't we?