Study Links Long Fingernails and Bacteria

ByABC News
October 24, 2001, 4:55 PM

B O S T O N, Oct. 25 -- Long nails have always been an expression of beauty, but a new study released today suggests that beauty is not always healthy.

In a study released at the Infectious Disease Society of America meeting in San Francisco, researchers found that artificial and natural nails longer than 3 millimeters beyond the tip of the finger, or the length of a pencil tip, carry more harmful bacteria and yeast under them than short nails.

A number of deadly, infectious outbreaks in neonatal intensive care units that were linked to long nails prompted the research.

The fingernails of 18 health-care workers were tested. Results showed that all of the workers with long nails harbored bacteria and yeast compared to 18 percent of those with short nails.

Two germs found under many of the workers nails were Klebsiella, a bacteria that can cause pneumonia and urinary tract infections, and Candida parapsilosis, a yeast that can cause wound and blood stream infections.

Expert Advice

Dr. Carol A. Kauffman, co-author of the study and professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, says that most people do not wash their hands well enough to get rid of all of the germs.

"It is recommended that people spend 15 seconds washing their hands, and most people don't spend even half that time," Kauffman says.

The findings indicate the need for further research that focuses on a number of other professions.

"The results show that there are implications for workers in other areas, such as day care workers, food handlers and even new mothers, but no one has yet studied these populations," says Kauffman. "If problems can occur in the health care industry, it makes you think about what can happen elsewhere."

Kauffman suggests that people be extra attentive to their nails when washing and get underneath them to make sure that they are clean.

However, even thorough hand washing is not 100 percent effective in ridding the nails of germs.

"The best solution is to simply keep nails short," Kauffman says.