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What are skin snips?

A skin snips biopsy is the removal of a small piece of skin (about 2mm x 1mm) using forceps. 8 skin snips are collected from several sites, usually over the bony prominences; the shoulder, buttocks, external thigh and the calves. Additional snips are taken from the areas described as itchy.

This is usually done to investigate whether you have an infection called onchocerciasis. Onchocerciasis is a parasitic disease caused by the filarial worm Onchocerca volvulus
transmitted by repeated bites of infected blackflies (Simulium spp.). It is transmitted in part of Africa below the Sahara, although transmission has been reported in South America and the Middle East.

Will I feel anything?

A topical anaesthetic cream will be applied to the relevant areas prior to taking the skin snips. This will not cause complete numbness, which means that you may feel a stinging, pulling or tugging sensation during the procedure.

How long will it take?

The whole procedure should take between 30 mins – 1 hour.

Who will do the procedure?

Skin snips are performed by a trained clinical nurse specialist.


Please read the consent form carefully. The nurse undertaking the procedure will obtain your consent. If you have any further questions, please do ask - we are here to help! You can change your mind about having the procedure at any time, including after you have signed the consent form.

What happens to the pieces of skin that have been removed?

The pieces of skin will be analysed in the parasitology laboratory. The process usually takes 4 hours. Your nurse and doctor will then know whether the diagnosis has been confirmed or if other possibilities have to be considered.

What happens after the biopsy?

In order to obtain the skin snips, the skin will be cut. This will leave superficial wounds. A small plaster will be placed as each site where the skin has been cut, and this will have to be kept clean and dry. You can remove the plasters after 24 hours and wash the areas with soap and water in the bath or shower. The wound will usually start to heal after about two days. However, if the wound has not fully healed after this time, apply new, clean plasters where necessary.

What are the complications of skin snips biopsy?

Complications can include a small amount of discomfort and bleeding at the site of the snip, scarring and very occasionally some localised infection, which is easily treated with a short course of antibiotics if necessary.

Reporting of complications

It is unlikely that you will experience any complications following the skin snips procedure. If you do have any concerns, please call the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and ask to speak to one of the clinical nurse specialists. Outside of the hours of 9am - 5pm/at weekends please contact the on call infectious diseases registrar, via the UCLH Switchboard.

Contact details

The Hospital for Tropical Diseases
2nd Floor, Mortimer Market Centre Capper
Street, London
020 3447 5968
Switchboard: 020 3456 7890

Website www.the

Further information

Have you travelled to a tropical country in the last 6-12 months and are you acutely unwell? You can be seen in our emergency walk-in clinic Monday to Friday 9am-4pm.

Our travel medicine service offers specialist travel advice including for individuals with complex health conditions. We offer this on a privately and via NHS referral basis.

Please contact: or 020 3447 7999 for more information about our services.

Page last updated: 21 May 2024

Review due: 31 October 2025