5 On Your Side

Problems With Pedicures Can Lead To Infections, Disfiguring Scars

Posted March 14, 2006

— Pedicures are supposed to be a warm, bubbly treat for your feet. But for a growing number of customers, that treat turns into trouble.

Ginger Jones said she will never have another pedicure. Seven months ago after she had one, her legs became infected.

"Quarter-sized, hot, red, swollen, painful lesions," she said.

Jones' ordeal started as small bumps. At first, she thought they were bug bites, then razor burn.

"All of these kind of broke out at the same time," she said.

Within three months, the bumps turned into boils. After months of antibiotics and biopsies, Jones' doctor diagnosed her with a bacterial infection linked to pedicures and dirty foot spas.

It is a growing problem across the county. Health experts from South Carolina to Texas to California are warning consumers and salon operators about it. Right now, research is under way in North Carolina to determine the extent of the problem in the state.

It first came to light in California in 2000 when 110 pedicure customers broke out in boils. Some of the women still have the disfiguring scars on their legs.

"I'm not the same person I used to be anymore, and I can't live the life I used to. This past year has just damaged me so much," said infection victim Britney Welby.

Health experts said the whirlpool footbaths become a breeding ground for bacteria when they are not cleaned and disinfected between each customer and then again at the end of the day. Hair, skin and nails build up, especially behind the screen that covers the plumbing in many of the footbaths.

Five On Your Side recently saw how bad the build-up can get when we followed a state inspector as she checked out a Raleigh salon.

"This has been a long time. It's not just today or yesterday," said Connie Wilder, of the North Carolina Cosmetic Art Board.

As for Jones, she's beyond angry in knowing what her legs now look like because of a simple pedicure. Now, she worries most about her health and her scarred legs.

Industry leaders said the majority of people who get pedicures are not at risk, provided they go to salons that clean and disinfect correctly. They said footbaths must be cleaned with a hospital grade disinfectant between each customer. A household cleaner is not enough. It needs to run through the filtering system. Filter screens should also be scrubbed daily.

Plus, do not shave least 24 hours before you get a pedicure, if not a couple of days. Shaving can scrape and cut, which leaves you more susceptible to infection.

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