More than 130 people in the San Jose, Calif., area have reported bacterial infections after receiving pedicures at several salons. Of those people, 19 have been confirmed to have a bacterial infection, says Teresa Chagoya, spokesperson for the Santa Clara County Health Department. County health officials have received complaints of pedicure-linked infections involving 27 salons. “We’ve had most of the complaints come from three salons,” says Chagoya. “The other 24 have been named once or twice.”

Those numbers prompted the California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology to inspect hundreds of nail salons in the county last December. More than half of the 112 Santa Clara County nail salons inspected were cited for improper disinfection of whirlpool footbaths used for pedicures.

Of those 112 salons, 109 received citations, some involving multiple violations. Sixty- five salons were cited for inadequate disinfection of whirlpool footbaths, according to Patti Roberts, communications officer for the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

“These newest cases are an indication that salons do not understand the proper cleaning procedures,” says Roberts. “It also reminds us as a board that we need to be vigilant in educating salon owners of the guidelines that we have in place, and emphasize the importance of following those guidelines to ensure the health and safety of consumers.

However, the burden of responsibility still lies with the business owners. Part of owning a business is operating it properly, including cleaning and disinfecting properly.”

Both state and local health agencies are conducting a joint investigation that could result in the revocation of licenses. Following the investigation, criminal charges could be filed with the attorney general’s office, says Roberts.

These cases mirror a similar incident that occurred in Watsonville, Calif., a few years ago in which hundreds of pedicure clients were infected with lesions that were linked to contaminated whirlpool footbaths. If footbaths are not properly cleaned and disinfected, hair and skin debris can build up in the tub basin, allowing bacteria to grow unusually high levels. Soon after the cases were brought to the limelight, the state board issued guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting pedicure footbaths.

The board recently mailed out 37,000 letters to salon licensees throughout the state outlining the proper cleaning and disinfecting procedures for whirlpool baths. The letters were printed in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

“We are working on increasing awareness of consumers and physicians to the bacteria problem and the medical symptoms,” says Roberts.

Roberts says the board will continue to make investigations in the county and if it hears of other cases in other counties, the board and inspectors will be there. “That also gives us an opportunity to further educate salons as well as reach out to cosmetology schools,” she says. “The problems we find during our inspections help us determine in what areas the industry may be falling lax with, and in what areas schools may need to further educate and train.”

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