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SMU Student Forms Volunteer Group to Increase Awareness of Bacteria Outbreaks at Nail Salons

A public health presentation by Associate Professor Richard Rocco on Mycobacterium outbreaks in Bay Area nail salons inspired third-year podiatry student Chia-Ding (JD) Shih do something about it.

“Dr. Rocco mentioned that there were state regulations in place, but because there were still cases of Mycobacterium, they probably were not being followed,” said Shih. “He wasn’t aware of Podiatry being involved with prevention and treatment. So we had this idea.”

The idea was to form a volunteer group that could help increase awareness and decrease the prevalence of Mycobacterium skin infections at local salons. According to Shih, the goal of the group is to develop practical guidelines that the salons will be more apt to adopt.

Mycobacteria in whirlpool footbaths at nail salons can pose an infectious risk for pedicure customers. Outbreaks have been known to cause prolonged boils on the lower legs that leave scars when healed. In his research, Dr. Rocco had found that specific outbreaks have occurred in Watsonville, Mountain View, San Jose and San Francisco since 2000. Forty cases were reported in 2011.

“Our goal is to understand why the current guidelines don’t seem to be working, and to increase the awareness of outbreaks,” Shih said. “Hopefully, as the result of our effort, we can decrease the prevalence of skin infection from pedicure salons. This essentially is a long-term research project.”

Shih is one of the founders of the American Public Health Association CSPM student chapter, which was established in January with Dr. Johanna Richey as the chapter advisor. At its first meeting in mid-February, a team of seven volunteer podiatry students was formed to pursue this project.

The group plans to start its study by creating a survey to share with 10 to 20 local salons in Oakland.

“From the designed survey, we hope to get an idea why the current guidelines are not being followed,” said Shih. “We want to understand what is not working, and perhaps eventually we could try to work with the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology to re-craft the guidelines.” 

After they assess the data, the students will approach the salons with their findings and recommendations.

Once it is implemented locally, Shih would like to share the results with nine other student chapters across the country, and perhaps conduct the study nationwide.

“I hope this project can initiate an interest in identifying microorganisms without a lengthy process like bacterial culture and gene identification,” he said. “Also, creating a new cost-effective sterilization technique could be another topic of interest extending from this project. I am sure once this study goes full speed, potential research topics will appear.”

Shih hopes to partner with other SMU departments on this project in the near future.

“Instead of looking into treatments for Mycobacterium infection, we would like to focus on preventive medicine,” he adds. “This project definitely shares the same goal with Samuel Merritt University regarding the commitment to diversity and care.”

 
Chia-Ding Shih
Chia-Ding Shih
Podiatry volunteer group members, from left to right: Chia-Ding (JD) Shih (class 2014), David Tien (class 2015), Anna Tien (class 2015), Megan Allen (class 2016) and Lacey Beth Peck (class 2016). Not pictured: Dara Taeb (class 2016) and Kevin Grierson (class 2016)
Podiatry volunteer group members, from left to right: Chia-Ding (JD) Shih (class 2014), David Tien (class 2015), Anna Tien (class 2015), Megan Allen (class 2016) and Lacey Beth Peck (class 2016). Not pictured: Dara Taeb (class 2016) and Kevin Grierson (class 2016)
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