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Hepatitis C: Risk of a Haircut

To the Editor: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection has a prevalence of 1.8% in the United States. The mode of acquisition of HCV is unclear in nearly 40% of patients with chronic HCV infection. Various social practices are currently under scrutiny, including sharing razors, snorting cocaine through the same straw another person has used, and sexual practices (1).

We questioned whether a haircut that includes a trim of the sideburns and back of the neck using a straight razor might lacerate the skin and thereby spread hepatitis C. We obtained the fluid used in five different male hairdresser salons to "sterilize" the cutthroat blade after its use to trim the neck hairs and sideburns. The five fluids were negative for HCV RNA by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) (2). The fluids were then deliberately "spiked" with 0.1 ml of 1:10 diluted serum that contained HCV. The serum had been obtained from a patient who had chronic HCV infection, as determined by a positive result on PCR testing for HCV RNA. This qualitative test was considered to be more sensitive (it detects >100 viral equivalents/mL) than the HCV branched-DNA quantitative assay (which detects >200,000 viral equivalents/mL). By use of RT-PCR, HCV RNA was detected at 6 and 24 hours and at 7 days.

The antiseptic fluids used to clean the razor did not destroy the viral RNA. We wonder whether the routine male haircut may be a risk factor for HCV infection.

Norman Gitlin, MD
Frederick S. Nolte, MD
Michael Weiss, MD
Emory University School of Medicine
Atlanta, GA 30322

Author: Gitlin N, Nolte FS, Weiss M, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322
Source: Ann Intern Med 126 (5): 410-411 (1997)

1. Conry-Cantilena C, Van Raden M, Gibble J, Melpolder J, Obaid-Shakil A, Viladomiv L, et al. Routes of infection, viremia and liver disease in blood donors found to have hepatitis C virus infection. N Engl J Med. 1996;334:1691-6.
2. Nolte FS, Thurmond C, Fried MW. Preclinical evaluation of amplicor hepatitis C virus test fir detection of hepatitis C virus RNA. J Clin Microbiol. 1995;33:1775-8.

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