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GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is supposed to be a treat for your toes, a pedicure in a whirlpool foot spa. But did you know a relaxing pedicure could lead to this? A terrible skin infection that causes painful leg boils.

MARILYN CLARKE, SALON VICTIM: I had huge, oozing, lesions on my leg, pussy, oozing.

CYNTHIA HINZ, SALON VICTIM: It looked like cigarette burns. Somebody took and cigarettes and went up and down you leg.

HUNT: Hundreds of women have developed skin infections after getting pedicures in salons. Doctors say it is a disturbing trend caused by bacteria that can grow in dirty foot spas.

DR. SHELLEY SEKULA-GIBBS, DERMATOLOGIST: We really can't scare people enough regarding this. It is a very real threat.

HUNT (on camera): All across the country? SEKULA-GIBBS: All across the country.

HUNT (voice-over): In the U.S. the problem was first noticed in California, where there have been three serious outbreaks of bacterial infections in five years. In 2002, a month after getting a pedicure near San Jose, Angela Lanctot noticed what she thought were mosquito bites. But bumps turned into sores her father, a surgeon, had to drain daily, by squeezing them.

(on camera): Painful?

ANGELA LANCTOT, SALONG VICTIM: Extremely painful, kind of like grit your teeth, scream-out-loud painful.

HUNT (voice-over): And worst of all, Lanctot was suffering during one of the biggest events of her life, her wedding.

LANCTOT: There were open sores that were seeping with puss.

HUNT (on camera): All under your beautiful white wedding dress?

LANCTOT: Yes.

HUNT: Pretty memorable?

LANCTOT: Yes.

HUNT (voice-over): But Lanctot isn't alone.

(on camera): Did any of you ever imagine that you'd be saying, pedicure, open sores in the same sentence?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

HUNT (voice-over): All of these women have sued California salons for skin infections after a pedicure.

MONICA DITTRICH, SALON VICTIM: It really makes you feel ugly, and damaged. And I really felt like a leper.

HUNT: The Centers for Disease Control says infections like these are caused by this water borne bacteria. In a 2002 study of California salons, the CDC found the rapidly growing bacteria were highly prevalent in whirlpool footbaths. Infections have now been reported in 12 states. Doctor Shelly Sekula-Gibbs, a dermatologist says, you can absorb bacteria from dirty footbath water, through a tiny cut or abrasion on your skin.

SEKULA-GIBBS: It can really hurt people's legs and it can leave them with disfiguring scares. So it's very bad.

HUNT: Something these women know all too well. Several showed us their legs; 19-year-old Brittany Welby had some of the worst scares.

BRITTANY WELBY, SALON VICTIM: I'm not the same person anymore. I can't live the life I used to when I was 18. This past year has just damaged me so much.

HUNT: Infections can be prevented, scientists say, if foot spas are cleaned properly. One problem is this screen that covers the plumbing in many machines. It can trap dirt, hair and skin, turning the tub into a breeding ground for bacteria. We wanted to see for ourselves what's behind foot spa screens. So, we went along with this salon inspector in Raleigh, North Carolina.

My name is Connie. I'm the state board inspector.

HUNT: In the first shop, the foot spa screens turn out to be clean. But at another salon, watch what happens when this footbath screen is removed. Look how much build up is there. The owner claims it is from one day of doing pedicures.

(on camera): So that's from one day?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, we got very busy today.

HUNT (voice-over): So we take a closer look at one screen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That looks like mold with dead skin.

HUNT: People's feet are in this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

HUNT: Is that gross?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is terrible.

HUNT (voice-over): But it isn't just one screen. According to our inspector all three of the salon's foot spas show signs of serious neglect.

(on camera): Do you think this is as clean as it should be?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uh-uh.

HUNT: No? It's bad, isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.

HUNT: It's gross, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.

HUNT (voice-over): The following week the salon was reinspected and the footbaths were clean.

(on camera): It takes about an hour to do a pedicure, but the numbers really add up for just one chair. You could do eight a day, 50 pedicures a week, around 200 pedicures a month, in one chair. And if it's not cleaned correctly it is like sitting in the same bath as everyone before you.

CLARKE: It's gross. I would never do that. It makes you feel gross, dirty and disgusting.

HUNT (voice-over): This California salon, where more than 100 women were allegedly infected, settled along with its insurance company and some of its suppliers, a lawsuit for nearly $3 million. Cases against five other salons are pending. Neither the salons, nor their lawyers, would agree to speak with us. But the industry says the vast majority of millions of consumers who get pedicures every year are not at risk.

PAUL DYKSTRA, INT'L. NAIL TECHNICIANS ASSOC.: The salon professionals, with proper education, will do what is necessary to make sure that this isn't a problem.

HUNT: Paul Dykstra heads the International Nail Technicians Association, which has published guidelines advising members to clean like this Chicago salon does, by scrubbing foot spa screens daily and disinfecting after every client. But Dykstra believes it is up to consumers to ask questions.

DYKSTRA: If the salon professional, god forbid, is one that doesn't understand these procedures, they shouldn't get the service there.

HUNT: So we decided to find out what happens when consumers inquire about cleaning. We asked Nancy King, a nationally known industry expert, who trains nail professionals to go into upscale salons in Houston, wearing a hidden camera. Our expert finds one salon doing everything right, disinfecting after each pedicure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to, because there are water jets in there, and the germs get caught in the water jets.

HUNT: At another salon, the receptionist says the right thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After every client, they clean and disinfect.

HUNT: But when King talks to the pedicure technician, she gets a different story.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If there's a salon out there saying that they're cleaning and like bleaching after every client that's a lie, because they can't do it. I mean, I've never seen anybody do that.

HUNT: CNN asked the salon owner to comment. He never responded.

(on camera): You went to seven spas, how many did you approve of?

NANCY KING, INDUSTRY EXPERT: One.

HUNT: What does that tell you?

KING: There are a lot of people out there that need a lot more training.

HUNT (voice-over): These women know how important a safe pedicure is.

WELBY: It's really, really sad that a pedicure has changed my life like this.

HUNT: They face a life-time of scares, they say, may never heal.

Gregg Hunter, CNN, Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Man, if you still want a pedicure, experts advise three things to protect yourself: Ask how the salon cleans its footbaths. It should use a hospital grade, EPA approved disinfectant and run 10- minute cleaning cycle before each and every client. They rarely seem to do that apparently.

Ask the salon to remove the footbath screen and show you it's clean. And don't shave your legs, they say, less than 24 hours before having a pedicure. To be really safe, stop shaving two to three days before. Cuts and nicks can provide a door to bacteria.
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