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Barbers’ clippers show blood contamination – study

Cape Times logo Cape Times 2018-04-10 Lisa Isaacs
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A study analysing the hair clippers of barbers in three areas of Cape Town has found there is a significant contamination of clippers with blood and blood-borne viruses.

Hepatitis B, a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause acute and chronic disease, was detected, with enough DNA copies to pose a risk of transmitting infection.

Bleeding from the popular clean-shave “chiskop” haircut was recently reported as being prevalent in South Africa.

A team of experts from UCT investigated the prevalence of barber hair clipper contamination with blood, HIV, and hepatitis B viruses.

Although HIV was not detected on the clippers, the clinical significance of contamination of clippers with blood, especially with regard to the transmission of blood-borne infections, warrants further study, the authors said.

Fifty barbers from Langa, Bonteheuwel, and Gugulethu participated in the study.

One clipper from each barber was collected straight after it had been used for a clean-shave haircut.

Each clipper was rinsed with phosphate-buffered saline and then submerged in a viral medium.

Of the clippers collected, 42 percent were positive for the detection of blood, and 8% were positive for hepatitis B.

Clippers from Bonteheuwel had a significantly higher prevalence of blood contamination at 72%, compared with 33% of those from Langa and Gugulethu.

“Further studies to investigate barber clipper sterilisation practices and whether the clean-shave hairstyle is an independent risk factor for HIV, HBV, and hepatitis C virus infections are warranted. Public education on individual clipper ownership should be advocated for clean-shave and blade-fade haircuts,” the authors said.

Western Province Barber Association chairperson Warren Theunis said a lack of training for barbers contributed to the problem.

“When it comes to sanitation, hygiene and skin disorders and diseases, many barbers have never had formal training,” he said.

“It is rare to find this in a salon; in the informal barber environment it is more prevalent,” Theunis added.

Some barbers would use paraffin to clean their equipment, but this was not completely effective, he said.

“Cleaning the plastic equipment is easier with hot soapy water. For metals like clippers and scissors, using a cleaning agent with 70% alcohol or UV light will clean thoroughly.”

Provincial Health Department spokesperson Mark van Der Heever advised barbers to regularly sterilise their equipment and environment.

“Environmental health officers do engage business in ensuring clean/safe shops and equipment.”

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