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Don't let a pedicure disfigure you

foot bath
How do you know for sure how often your salon cleans its foot bath filters? Just ask -- so a fun experience doesn't turn into a medical nightmare.  

From Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Unit

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- What could be bad about a pedicure? According to one health official, the answer is fortuitum -- a microbacterium that causes boils on the legs.

"We found a large outbreak of 110 individuals who were infected with this microbacterial infection of their legs and we traced it to a series of contaminated whirlpool foot baths in Santa Cruz County, California," says Dr. Kevin Winthrop of the California Department of Health Services.

The women took antibiotics and the infections went away. But "these infections can be quite scarring and disfiguring and I know some women are choosing to have some plastic surgery or some sort of corrective surgery," says Winthrop.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen looks at the potential risks that could be associated with nail salons that don't de-sanitize their equipment (May 1)

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Choosing a nail salon
  • Check for licenses. Both the salon and nail technicians should be licensed. If licenses are not posted, ask to see them.

  • Find out how nail implements are sanitized. Heat sterilization is ideal, but most states permit chemical sterilizing as long as the implements are immersed in the solution for a minimum of 10 minutes between customers. When chemical solutions are used, check the product's label for words like "germicidal" to indicate that it is strong enough to kill germs. The safest thing to do is to bring your own implements.

  • Wash your hands before nail work begins and insist that the nail technician do the same.

  • Observe whether each customer is given a fresh bowl of soapy water to soak their nails in. A new nail file should be used, as well.

  • Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham

    So how common is this? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't track the disease but Winthrop has some theories. "We did speculate that there are probably other cases that occur around the country. They might not occur frequently, but we don't hear about it."

    Winthrop also notes that most doctors are unfamiliar with these types of infections or are unaware of the link with nail salons. "We did receive numerous case reports from other physicians looking for advice as to how to treat these infections. So I do know of other cases out there," he says.

    Chairs specially designed for pedicures have foot baths attached with individual filtering systems. The salon in California hadn't cleaned its filters for about a year. Built up within the filters were hair, skin and toenails, which made an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. As the water swirled around, so did the bacteria.

    "In fact," says Winthrop, "there was enough hair there you could make a moderate-sized toupee out of it."

    This salon is an exception, not a rule. Most salons clean, sanitize and disinfect their filters twice a week.

    How do you know for sure how often your salon cleans its foot bath filters? Just ask -- so a fun experience doesn't turn into a medical nightmare.




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