Q&A

Is it a fungal infection ... or not?

Q.

A few clients at out salon have been diagnosed by their doctor as having fungal infections of the nail. (The nails are white and crumbly.) Some of the doctors say the condition is not contagious and that it’s OK to apply acrylic nails. The other doctors say it is contagious. Who is right? If it is contagious, what disinfection procedures do you recommend to prevent passing the fungal infection to other clients?

A.

The question raises several important issues. First, crumbly nails are often caused by a fungal infection, but the diagnosis should be confirmed through tests performed by a dermatologist. Did the doctor culture the infected nails to establish the diagnosis?

When a fungal infection is present in the nails, it is best to leave the nail free of applicatons. Covering the nail with acrylics or nail enamel creates a warm, damp, protected environment in which fungi flourish. Routine use of these products is not recommended in clients with fungal infections. You can, however, cover the nail for brief periods of time to camouflage the client’s problem so that she looks her best for a special event, such as a wedding or an evening out.

The question of whether a fungal infection can be passed from client to client in the salon is interesting. Fungal infections of the nail are rare. Fungi that cause most nail infections are not passed directly from person to person. In addition, most individuals are not susceptible to fungal infections; it is exceptional for individuals who live together to infect one another. In fact, many individuals purposefully exposed to fungi for research purposes do not develop persistent infections. It is unlikely, therefore, that clients will develop fungal infections as a direct result of having professional nail services. Clients with a fungal infection in the nail should not have their nails polished because enamel applications may worsen their infection.

Nail technicians should disinfect their instruments after each service and use a clean and disinfected set of instruments for each client. Although the risk of spreading infection – fungal, bacterial, or viral – is low, it is not hygienic to use the same instruments on different clients without first disinfecting the instruments. Dry heat, liquid disinfectants, or autoclave sterilization are satisfactory disinfection methods.

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