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December 08, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Pedicure patrons warned of infections (December 08, 2004)

By Andrea Gemmet

Almanac Staff Writer

While state health investigators are looking into an outbreak of nasty bacterial infections plaguing pedicure patrons in Santa Clara County, San Mateo County officials haven't heard of a single problem so far.

"We've had no complaints recently," said Beverly Thames, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Health Services Agency.

In May of this year, Santa Clara County health officials began hearing from local doctors about women complaining of oozing skin ulcers and boils on their feet and lower legs.

Health officials believe the hard-to-treat infections were spread from contaminated whirlpool foot baths, used in some nail salons as part of pedicure treatments. Forty cases are currently being investigated, said Joy Alexiou, spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

The state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology regulates manicurists and nail salons, and is investigating seven nail salons in Santa Clara County associated with the nontuberculosis mycobacterium infections. Wounds from the infection can cause scarring and require months of antibiotic treatment.

"If you believe you have lesions or problems that come from a salon in San Mateo County, go to your doctor and let them know that you've been to a nail salon," said Ms. Thames. "My suspicion is that as more and more people read about this in the newspaper, it may bring to mind that perhaps something (people) have may be caused by that. It's possible that we could get some more calls."

The last major health problem related to pedicures reported in San Mateo County was in 2002, when a woman was suspected to have contracted acute hepatitis C from her monthly pedicures. At her salon, her foot calluses were shaved with a razor device and the tissue around her nail bed was trimmed with nail nippers, occasionally causing bleeding. It's illegal for the callous-shaving devices to even be present in a nail salon, let alone used.

The state is investigating the case, and a final report determining the cause of the hepatitis infection has still not been released to San Mateo County officials, said Ms. Thames.

Since 2001, state regulations require the whirlpool foot baths or foot spas to be drained, cleaned and disinfected after each use. Every other week, they must be cleaned and soaked with a bleach solution for at least six hours.

Even if the basin is cleaned, bacteria can lurk in the jets and inner workings of the foot spa, said Deedee Carlson, president of the San Francisco Institute of Aesthetics and Cosmetology.

"It's like a mini-hot tub. Bacteria like dark, dirty, damp and warm places. The jets are a perfect environment," she said.

Ms. Thames said that women are advised not to shave their legs prior to getting a pedicure, because small cuts from shaving could allow bacteria to enter the body.

Pedicure patrons are also advised to ask about their nail salon's hygiene practices, and to report to the state if they see any unhygienic practices, such as foot spas not being cleaned between uses, or manicure implements not being disinfected or disposed of after use.

The salon's and the manicurists' licenses should be posted in obvious locations.

"If you have any doubts about the cleanliness standards at a salon, leave," the state board's Web site advises.

San Mateo County health officials looked into taking over the regulation and inspection of manicurists and nail salons a couple of years ago, but decided it would be too expensive, Ms. Thames said. In order to hire enough staff to provide annual inspections and follow up on complaints, license fees in San Mateo County would have had to almost quadruple from the $35-$50 fees currently charged by the state, she said. There are about 1,800 licenses in San Mateo County, but not all are current, she said. Bay City News contributed to this report.

A fact sheet on whirlpool foot spas can be found at the California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology's Web site, Complaints can be filed through the site or the state Department of Consumer Affairs at (800) 952-5210.

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