My head was well used to seedy kinyozi places with rickety tin-walls that squeaked with every whiff of the wind. But there was this one time I treated myself to an ‘executive’ haircut at an executive barber shop.

Nothing wrong with being philanthropic to my head, I thought.

I made my way to the revolving black leather seat not knowing that questions like “Should I cut this part? and, “would you love this lotion?” was more than showing customer care because after two hours of having a cut the bill read Sh2,500!

I cleared my throat and called a friend for rescue; feeling very violated – like someone forced themselves into my pocket.
Despite paying all that, it turns out, my safety against contracting HIV and similar illnesses wasn’t quite assured.
“HIV can be transmitted through shaving at the barber,” says Dr Kizito Lubano, a lecturer and private practitioner. “The machines used disrupt hair follicles and cause micro-cuts. This breaks the skin barrier (which is meant to protect us from pathogens) and any microbe can therefore be easily inoculated.”

Good barbers, he says, will ‘actually’ sterilize the machines before using them on a new client.

But not the typical kinyozi attendants who will move from one client to the next in quick succession; using the same machine and sprinkling a few drops of methylated spirit on the cutting edge. I call this ‘barber negligence’.

“Methylated spirit is an alcohol but its effectiveness in killing the HIV virus is yet to be documented. That notwithstanding, to effectively sterilize equipment it would require that it is immersed in the agent for a period of time not less than the recommended threshold.”
Equipment used in close contact to the body is potential infection hazards. The HIV virus is transmissible through body fluids like blood,” he says.

He cites safety concerns for doctors who have to protect themselves in the operation room “because even blood spurting into the eye can infect one with HIV.”

Ultra Violet light is an effective sterilization agent. But Kizito worries though that the container with blue light at a corner of your middle-class kinyozi is just a normal bulb oozing blue light.

“Chances are that it has no UV radiation. Which means the equipment is not exactly sterile when they are wielded into action.”
And if your barber has only one shaving machine which he is going to shove through your scalp two minutes after finishing up with a different client then you can as well take off before it is too late.

“Apart from skin infections known to attack the scalp – like ringworms – barbers can transmit more serious infections like HIV and Herpes. For this reason, fathers should not use the same shaving machines with sons,” says Kizito. Since it is out of routine for one to test for STIs a month after a haircut, it is likely that victims of barber negligence may never find out where they actually got that syphilis from.

PS: The HIV virus, as long as it is inside a living cell, is very much alive. It is still capable of causing infection.