Blood and virus detection on barber clippers

S Afr Med J. 2018 Mar 28;108(4):278-282. doi: 10.7196/SAMJ.2017.v108i4.12830.


Background: Bleeding from the popular clean-shave 'chiskop' haircut was recently reported as prevalent in South Africa (SA), a country with 6.9 million HIV-infected people.

Objectives: To investigate the prevalence of barber hair clipper contamination with blood and HIV and hepatitis B viruses.

Methods: Fifty barbers from three townships in Cape Town, SA, were invited to participate. One clipper from each barber was collected immediately after it had been used for a clean-shave haircut. Each clipper was rinsed with phosphate-buffered saline and then submerged in viral medium. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used to identify the blood-specific RNA marker haemoglobin beta (HBB), hepatitis B virus (HBV) and HIV.

Results: The clean-shave haircut was the most common haircut requested by clients (78%). Of the clippers collected, 42% were positive for HBB, confirming detection of blood, none were positive for HIV, and 4 (8%) were positive for HBV. Two clippers (clippers 16 and 20) were positive on qualitative HBV PCR. HBV DNA from clipper 16 clustered with genotype A sequences from SA, India, Brazil and Martinique, while clipper 20 clustered with SA genotype D sequences. The clipper 20 sequence was identical to a subtype D sequence (GenBank accession AY233291) from Gauteng, SA.

Conclusions: This study confirms that there is significant contamination of barber hair clippers with blood and blood-borne viruses. Hepatitis B was detected with enough DNA copies to pose a risk of transmitting infection. Although HIV was not detected in this small study, the risk of transmission should be quantified. Further studies to investigate barber clipper sterilisation practices and whether the clean-shave hairstyle is an independent risk factor for HIV, HBV and hepatitis C virus infections are warranted. Public education on individual clipper ownership (as is the case with a toothbrush) should be advocated for clean-shave and blade-fade haircuts.