Man Contracts Life-Threatening Infection at Nail Salon: Doctors

NOTE: Melissa Wyman, the regional manager for Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon, will be answering your pedicure and manicure safety questions live at 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28. Scroll down to learn how to leave your questions for her.

A relaxing day at the nail salon turned into a nightmare for one D.C. man, who doctors believe contracted a life-threatening infection during a pedicure.

Bruce Walters, 63, remembers feeling some discomfort while he was getting a pedicure in his hometown of Indiana.

"They had some type of instrument that they were putting underneath my nail of my great toe and then I think they punctured it," Walters said.

He didn't think anything of it, but 10 days later, when he returned to D.C., he started experiencing flu-like symptoms and confusion.

"I was not completing sentences and kind of disoriented," Walters said."If I would have slept another night in bed, I might not have lived past that point."

Doctors at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital found an infection raging through Walters' body, particularly in his leg. The most likely cause, they said, was bacteria that entered his big toe during the pedicure.

"He was getting so much swelling in his leg that it was cutting off circulation to his leg, and if that continued, he was going to lose the leg," said Dr. John Steinberg with MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

According to health officials, infections from nail salons are rare, but they do happen.

Maryland, D.C. and Virginia receive 30 to 45 complaints a year about unsanitary conditions and infections, but that's out of hundreds of salons. That number could be much higher, but many complaints go unreported.

Steinberg said, "It's scary to think this can happen from a minor incident. A minor break in the nail can actually be an entry point for dangerous bacteria."

Melissa Wyman, the regional manager for Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon, said people should be extra observant and look closely at cleanliness. There shouldn't be nail clippings or file dust on the ground or at work stations.

Stainless steel bowls for cleaning feet can also be safer than whirlpool tubs, as bacteria can get caught in the jets and hoses if they're not cleaned after each use. You should also note whether your technicians gets their tools from a sterilized pouch.

"Sometimes those little details make the difference between having a safe clean service and being in a situation where you can get some sort of infection," Wyman explained.

States do inspect nail salons but in places like Virginia, those inspections are mostly driven by consumer complaints.   

Three weeks in the hospital and five surgeries later, Walters is back at work. But he won't be getting a pedicure anytime soon.

To file a complaint in D.C., send an email to or call 202-442-5955. In Maryland, email And in Virginia, click here.

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