The chiskop is one of the more popular haircuts in South Africa. It is also a haircut that may have the greatest chance of laceration.
On SAFM, professor of dermatology at the University of Cape Town, Nonhlanhla Khumalo told radio host Ernest Pillay that he may want to bring his own clippers when he next visits his barber.
Khumalo was part of a study with 10 other researchers who wrote the article “Blood and virus detection on barber clippers”.
Their paper looked at 50 barber shops in three areas of Cape Town. Khumalo and her team found that 42% of the hair clippers tested positive for blood. From that sample, 8% returned with positive markers for Hepatitis B, a virus that infects the liver.
Hepatitis B is treatable, but can increase your risk of cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, which increases the chance of liver cancer and other diseases.
Khumalo said that she was certain from the outset that the study would lead to blood samples, especially with close-shave haircuts, but she was not prepared to learn that the blood samples would contain viruses.
The study also said that the “fade” was more likely to cause bleeding markers but it was the closeness of the chiskop that was the issue.
“The results show that clippers used to mostly cut the longer blade-fade hairstyle were associated with more bleeding markers,” it said. “Although one would expect that the clippers used to cut the clean-shave chiskop would have had more blood markers as a result of the close contact of the blade with the scalp.”
The study relied on barbers voluntarily offering their clippers after a clean shave haircut. The clippers would then be “rinsed with phosphate-buffered saline and then submerged in a viral medium”. The polymerase chain reaction, which is a technique used to take a piece of DNA and make many copies of it, is then used to test whether the sample contained traces of Hepatitis B or HIV.
Although her study did not look at the status of people, Khumalo said that a previous study in 2012, which looked at how clippers were shared between Ethiopian barbers, showed that HIV and other blood-borne pathogens could enter the body through an accidental scratch.
The majority of barbers, according to Khumalo, cleaned their clippers with methylated spirits and 8% cleaned their blades with an open flame. But the spirits did not kill blood-borne viruses and no study has reported on the efficacy of using open flames as a disinfectant.
In order for barbers to clean their clippers properly, they would need antiviral sprays and a uv-light cabin to sterilise their equipment. This method is popular in cleaning equipment at hair salons overseas.
In the research paper, it was noted that researchers could not determine how long the viruses remained on the various blades in subsequent haircuts. Nor if the virus found on the blade were still infectious.
Khumalo said, “Counter to common understanding, HIV and Hepatitis can survive in dry-blood spots for up to a few days.” Other blood-borne viruses can survive outside the body, but it “depends on which virus one is talking about, how much of it is there (i.e. viral load) and the environmental conditions.”
Another variable, the researchers found, was that blood samples may be determined by the barber’s skill in shaving heads and the technique that they used.
The researchers said that it was “unlikely” that the contaminated blade would pose a risk to the client, however, enough blades tested positive with blood and blood-borne diseases to warrant public concern.
Khumalo said that the best prevention that individuals can take in avoiding any possibility of bloodborne viruses would be to bring their own blade to the barbershop, or to ask for any haircut that is not a chiskop or a fade.
The next step in the study will look at controlled cases with people who have shaving bumps. Khumalo said studying the bumps may help quantify whether or not clippers contribute to the spread of hepatitis B and HIV.
Professor Nonhanhla Khumalo is head of the Dematology Division at the UCT Department of Medicine.