A trip to the spa for a pedicure or tidying bikini wax is a favourite way for many women to grab some "me time" or prepare for a vacation. But what are the chances you’ll pick up a bacterial or fungal infection from unsterile equipment, or even be injured?
Unlike restaurants, daycares and swimming pools where public health inspections are routinely carried out as a part of provincial or municipal legislation, no consistent system of standards or regulations exist across Canada for the spa industry. Health inspections of spas in most municipalities and provinces in Canada are usually carried out only after a customer complains or a suspected outbreak occurs.
Yet, since the mid-1990s, the spa business has exploded in Canada. Now an estimated 3,000 spas exist across the country ranging from shopping plaza nail salons and stand alone day spas, to tony hotel spa chains and destination resort spas.
The spa setting is rife for the possibility of infection transmission, notes Dr. Michael Gardam, director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto. "Spas use communal instruments and equipment, and skin can be nicked or broken during some procedures like manicures and pedicures which expose the instruments to blood," he says. ”Also, warm or wet environments are perfect for growing microbes which have the potential to cause infections in staff and patrons. The diligence of the spa owner/operator is critical in ensuring that strict disinfection and sterilization practices are followed.”
Don’t let this happen to you
That’s just the start. Over the last decade, outbreaks and serious individual infection have included these high-profile cases:
‘ In March 2010, health authorities in Ajax, Ont. urged clients who had received acupuncture services at the Ajax Unisex Salon and Spa, to be tested for hepatitis B and C as well as HIV, after the operator was charged with posing as a qualified healthcare provider in the areas of massage therapy, acupuncture and other services.
‘ In 2006, Kimberly Jackson, 46, of Texas, died from Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Her death apparently resulted from a staph infection that developed after she received a cut to her foot during a pedicure.
‘ An outbreak of Mycobacterium fortuitum infection from poorly-sanitized pedicure baths occurred in California, affecting 110 women in one nail salon. Mycobacteria can cause weeping lesions, pus-filled boils and ulcers that can be resistant to treatment and leave extensive scarring.
‘ A 2006 French study found that pedicures and manicures were one of the risk factors in unexplained Hepatitis C infections. And a case of infective endocarditis ‘ a serious heart infection’has been confirmed from an unsanitary pedicure.
‘ And who can forget that celebrity Paula Abdul developed a staph infection in her thumb following a manicure in 2004?
At present, given the lack of government regulations, Leading Spas of Canada (LSC), Canada’s national spa professional association, has taken the initiative. LSC has 175 members, and they all currently voluntarily adhere to LSC’ s Standards and Practices guidelines for safety and hygiene requirements, which have been in place since 1998. Some noted hotel spa chains, such as Fairmont’s Willow Stream Spas, have also instituted strict protocols for safety and sanitation.
In the summer of 2009, LSC embarked on a voluntary accreditation pilot project for quality assurance, developing extensive criteria related to safety, hygiene and business practices for spa operators, with on-site inspections being performed by impartial third-party inspectors. All those that pass are given an "approved" certificate as well as the right to display LSC’s "Quality Assurance Seal of Approval" on their door or in their spa.
You can see the list of properties who have passed at www.leadingspasofcanada.com; click on "Find a Spa" on the home page.