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Nearly 5 million Americans have chronic hepatitis, and believe it or not, many don't know it because they don't show symptoms. Now a new study shows customers in nail salons could be putting themselves at risk for the deadly disease.

Nancye Swanson does her own nails these days. Six months ago, she almost died from Hepatitis B, a serious liver infection, which doctors say she picked up at a salon.

It felt like the flu, she said.

Her skin turned yellow, a symptom of Hepatitis B. It happened while she was getting a pedicure.

A lot of these places use sharp instruments and they could be reusing those, said Dr. Robert Gish, a clinical professor at University of California San Diego.

Dr. Gish is writing a health policy for the Vietnamese government on the spread of Hepatitis B. That's because anyone born in the Asian Pacific region is at a high risk of already having it. That includes the thousands of people working in salons across the U.S. --and they may not even know it.

Ninety-five percent of people with Hepatitis B have no symptoms, said Dr. Gish. That's the problem.

While there is no cure, Nancye takes a pill once a day to control it.

I cannot believe I was that close to death, she said.

To protect yourself, the Hepatitis B foundation recommends:

  • Bringing your own tools since disinfectants may not be 100 percent effective
  • If you have cuts, bug bites or a skin infection -- reschedule the appointment
  • Don't shave your legs before a pedicure since that increases your risk of infection
  • Ask how often footbaths are disinfected

It's not just nail salons to watch out for. Anyplace where you can get tattoos, ear piercing, body piercing, even barbershops, can put you at risk for Hepatitis B, according to Dr. Gish.

There is a Hepatitis B vaccine available which has been routinely given to infants since 1991. It's now recommended that adults who are at high-risk be immunized so check with your doctor.

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