A trip to the nail salon or the barbershop sounds innocent enough, but a new report shared at last week’s annual scientific meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology warns that bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis B and C viruses could be transmitted along with your mani/pedi or buzz cut.
The problem lies in the potential of non-single use instruments not being fully cleaned and disinfected between uses. The instruments in question include nail files, nail brushes, finger bowls, foot basins, buffers, razors, clippers, and scissors. Don’t rely on a dip in that iconic blue Barbicide liquid to protect you, it can’t kill hepatitis viruses.
The hepatitis C virus remains viable for at least 16 hours (and up to four days) on environmental surfaces at room temperature while the hepatitis B virus can live outside the body for at least seven days. Either of these viruses can be spread through even a slight cut, scrape, or break in the skin.
Some states have regulations in place that require “intermediate-level” disinfection for non-single use items in nail salons and barbershops. This would prevent the transmission of infectious diseases, but experts question whether compliance is sufficient. There is at least one case report in Virginia of acute hepatitis C infection stemming from contaminated manicure/pedicure implements.
That particular nail salon-based hepatitis infection spurred researchers from the Office of Epidemiology at the Virginia Department of Health to present at the recent American College of Gastroenterology meeting. This research group also compiled published data on other cases of hepatitis infection through manicure, pedicure, or barbering. The picture that emerged is that these sources present a small but real risk of disease transmission.
It can be difficult to pinpoint where and how every single case of hepatitis infection is acquired, particularly with hepatitis C. The hepatitis C virus can lay dormant for up to 20 years, during which time a person would be hard-pressed to remember the location and condition of two decade’s worth of nail and hair care! In my many years of working with hepatitis C patients at BioPlus, it’s not uncommon for the source of infection to be a mystery (especially for people with no history of needle drug use). Nail salon and barbershop infections are likely to fly under the radar.
You can avoid hepatitis B by getting vaccinated against this virus. Unfortunately, there is not yet a vaccine for the hepatitis C virus. For now, avoiding exposure to this virus is the best way to avoid infection.
Currently, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no specific guidelines for the prevention of hepatitis B or C infections in nail salons and barbershops. Yet a small risk does exist for the virus to be passed in these settings. You can protect yourself by asking your nail salon or barbershop about their cleaning and disinfecting tools and techniques. If a tool cannot be disinfected, it should not be used again. Another option is to bring in your own equipment (such as clippers, razors, and nail files) to each appointment.
Stephen C Vogt, PharmD
President and CEO