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Doctor fish nibble my flesh and it's cured my eczema; Driven to despair by a bad case of eczema, Leona Kaufman was prepared to try anything to cure her problem.

EIGHT years ago I developed eczema on the inside of my elbows. The skin became harder and looked bumpy, like an exceptionally bad rash. It was also very itchy.

After a few months it stopped as quickly as it had started and I had no problems at all for a few years. Then it reappeared on my right calf.

The condition would come and go and was worse when I was stressed. When my mum died three years ago it became unbearable and refused to shift. It was so itchy that I used to scratch until my skin bled.

My doctor gave me cortisone, a steroid cream. Once applied the itching would ease for up to three hours, but my skin wasn't healing.

I run a cafe and work with food, so I couldn't serve a customer and say `Excuse me while I scratch my leg'. It was very difficult for me.

One night in August two years ago, my husband Gerhard, who is German, and I were watching German television via satellite. We saw a news item about small fish called Garra rufa obtusa.

Many people believe the fish can cure eczema and psoriasis by nibbling away dead or diseased skin, causing healthy skin to grow.

They're also known as `doctor fish' and there are several resorts in Turkey where you can bathe in pools full of them.

I was sceptical but then I saw another German documentary about them. I listened to adults and children whose skin conditions had been cured and you could see `before' and `after' pictures.

I discovered these fish had been used in Turkey for medical purposes for over 200 years although they were relatively new to the West.

I contacted the supplier in Germany and found out you need from 15 to 45 fish depending on you problem. The more fish nibbling, the quicker the treatment. Gerhard was behind me 100 per cent so I placed an order for 30 fish. It took three months for delivery as there was a huge waiting list so we travelled to Stuttgart to collect them.

I came away with 40 fish in two buckets. They are very attractive - a dark grey colour with silver tummies and not at all fierce. They enjoy playing and they're little characters.

If they're in a good mood, their scales go darker, but it they're upset, they go paler. They were about 6cm long, but can grow to 15cm.

We had to buy a tank and together with the fish it cost pounds 1250. But I have no doubt it was worth it.

The first time I bathed with them I felt a tickling sensation - I'm ticklish, so it made me giggle!

They have no teeth, but wide mouths, and they work a bit like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up dead skin. It's a pleasant sensation .Where the skin's healthy, they nibble a bit, but they're not really interested.

They like a temperature of 39C so it's nice to bathe with them. Caring for them is straightforward too, as they tuck into normal fish food.

My first session lasted two hours, and afterwards my skin no longer felt hard. I transferred them to a tank in the kitchen, and bathed my leg for at least one hour every day.

By the fourth day, I had no itching. By the 13th day, all the lumps and bumps had gone, and by the third week my eczema had gone.

The fish soon started breeding and now I have 17 tanks containing about 10,000. These days I use them only to keep my hands soft.

People think it's a bit strange, but that's just ignorance. They think the fish are like piranhas and are afraid.

In my cafe the other day, I was talking to a woman whose two-year-old daughter had terrible eczema, but she said: "I'm not letting any fish touch her!" I couldn't understand it. They're such pleasant little things and look what they've done for me.

As far as I'm concerned, these fish are sent from heaven!

What the experts say

MARGARET COX, chief executive of the National Eczema Society says: "We are aware of the flesh-eating fish Garra rufa obtusa but have no direct experience or professional feedback about them.

"Our advice on `doctor fish' is the same as any alternative remedy - be cautious and always look for support and guidance from a medical expert."

To discuss any aspect of eczema, call the National Eczema Society helpline on 0870 241 3604 1pm- 4pm, Monday to Friday.

If you are interested in experiencing the fish or learning more about them, contact Leona on 020 72319944, e- mail her at info@doctorfish.net or log on to the website at www.doctorfish.net
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Title Annotation:Vital
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 18, 2002
Words:792
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