Objective: To determine differences in the identity and quantity of microbial flora from healthcare workers (HCWs) wearing artificial nails compared with control HCWs with native nails.
Design: Two separate studies were undertaken. In study 1, 12 HCWs who did not normally wear artificial nails wore polished artificial nails on their nondominant hand for 15 days. Identity and quantity of microflora were compared between the artificial nails and the polished native nails of the other hand. In study 2, the microbial flora of the nails of 30 HCWs who wore permanent acrylic artificial nails were compared with that of control HCWs who had native nails. In both studies, nail surfaces were swabbed and subungual debris was collected to obtain material for culture. Staphylococcus aureus, gram-negative bacilli, enterococci, and yeasts were considered to be potential pathogens. All organisms were identified and quantified.
Results: In study 1, potential pathogens were isolated from more samples obtained from artificial nails than native nails (92% vs. 62%; P<.001). Colonization of artificial nails increased over time; by day 15, 71% of cultures yielded a pathogen compared with 21% on day 1 (P=.004). A significantly greater quantity of organisms (expressed as mean log10 colony-forming units +/- standard deviation) was isolated from the subungual area than the nail surface; this was noted for both artificial (5.0+/-1.4 vs. 4.1+/-1.0; P<.001) and native nails (4.9+/-1.3 vs. 3.7+/-0.8; P<.001). More organisms were found on the surface of artificial nails than native nails (P=.008), but there were no differences noted in the quantities of organisms isolated from the subungual areas. In study 2, HCWs wearing artificial nails were more likely to have a pathogen isolated than controls (87% vs. 43%; P=.001). More HCWs with artificial nails had gram-negative bacilli (47% vs. 17%; P=.03) and yeasts (50% vs. 13%; P=.006) than control HCWs. However, the quantities of organisms isolated from HCWs wearing artificial nails and controls did not differ.
Conclusions: Artificial fingernails were more likely to harbor pathogens, especially gram-negative bacilli and yeasts, than native nails. The longer artificial nails were worn, the more likely that a pathogen was isolated. Current recommendations restricting artificial fingernails in certain healthcare settings appear justified.