Bathing in bacteria

Creative Nails owner Mia Nguyen explains the list that clients

Gilroy
– There have been no consumer complaints in South County about
infected foot baths at area nail salons, but county health
officials and local doctors stressed Wednesday that salon customers
need to be wary of microbacterial infections.
Gilroy – There have been no consumer complaints in South County about infected foot baths at area nail salons, but county health officials and local doctors stressed Wednesday that salon customers need to be wary of microbacterial infections.

“The larger issue is really the whirlpool foot baths,” said Joy Alexiou, spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. “Any salon can have a problem.”

The county has received 125 complaints from consumers who believe they have been infected with microbacterial furunculosis at their local salon.

The infection occurs when the bacteria, which occurs naturally in water, accumulates in the foot baths used for pedicures. Similar in some ways to tuberculosis, the bacteria covers the feet and legs with boils and lesions that take months to heal, even when treated with antibiotics.

Health officials recommend that women with any scrapes or cuts near their feet avoid pedicures and say that women should not shave their legs immediately before getting one.

“The bacteria needs an opening to get in,” Alexiou said, “and shaving is the perfect avenue to get in.”

Of the 125 cases, 111 have been linked to San Jose salons. The three worst offenders, and the only salons to be named, are National Nails, Kathy Nails and Silver Nails 2, all in San Jose.

Though the outbreak appears to be confined to North County, Morgan Hill dermatologist Dr. Pamela Stuart said Wednesday that it’s raised the anxiety level of her customers.

“Several patients have been calling, asking for advice,” Stuart said. “One thing that people don’t known is that Hepatitis C can be passed with the use of inappropriate cutting tools on skin, fingers and nails.”

Stuart recommends that people getting pedicures avoid the whirlpool spas and ask for a portable device, known as “roman baths,” because the bacteria typically accumulates in the whirlpool filters and drains.

Mia Nguyen, the owner of Creative Nails on 10th Street, said Wednesday that she offers portable foot baths to her customers who have reservations about using the whirlpool spas, but said the spas are completely safe.

“We educate our employees a lot because we need to protect our health, too,” Nguyen said. “We disinfect after every cleaning.”

And to help customers feel safe, Nguyen’s technicians disinfect the baths in front of the customers and have them sign the cleaning log.

HollyAnn Lilly and Meg Willardson, sisters who were getting their nails done Wednesday, said that Nguyen’s shop is the only one they go to.

“I’ve been coming here for 10 years because she’s clean,” Lilly said. “I come every two weeks. I’m not the least bit worried.”

Nguyen said that business has not dropped off since the county publicized the outbreak in the weeks before Christmas.

“Most of clients are regulars who have been coming here for years,” Nguyen said. “We have very few walk-ins. Most of clients are like family to us.”

Of the seven nail salons in Gilroy, only one, Fancy Nails, on 10th Street, has been cited for any reason in the last few years by the State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. The citation was for “crimes substantially related to the qualifications, functions and duties of a manicurist.” Fancy Nails technicians declined to comment for this story.

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