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New treatment zaps away foot infections

March 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
About 10 percent of us battle some type of athlete's foot infection. People spend more than $1.2 billion just to treat it, and doctors say they're only successful about half the time. But now there is a new laser treatment that zaps away the infection so you can put your best foot forward. It's one of the secrets of their happy 34-year marriage, Delia and Manuel Cisneros love to dance. But for many years, they were both afraid to show off their foot work.

"They looked kind of ugly," said Delia.

"I would do this, do that, all sorts of remedies, but nothing really ever worked," said Manuel.

Podiatrist Dr. Gabriel Maislos says chronic toenail fungal infections have been tough to treat.

"Historically, we had topicals that were eight percent effective. Then you had the pill, which was Lamisil, but as you know, it can have an adverse affect on your liver and it's only 70 percent effective," said Dr. Maislos. "Now we have the laser, which is 87 percent effective."

The doctor follows a grid-like pattern, passing an infrared laser over the toenail to kill the pathogens causing the infection, leaving the nail and surrounding tissue intact.

"We're able to kill the fungus at the source," said Dr. Maislos.

In a clinical trial testing one brand of laser, the infection was eliminated in 50 percent of toenails tested after four treatments. Six months later 76 percent of patients had clear nail growth.

"I kid you not, in about a week I saw the difference," said Manuel.

The Cisneros saw results quickly, but doctors say it usually takes about four months to see a difference as the nails grow out. The treatment costs about $1,000. Delia says it was worth it.

"I'm just gonna go shop for shoes," said Delia.

The dancing couple hopes to kick their toe fungus problem for good.

The laser is not FDA approved to treat toenails, but the device is cleared for dentistry. So some doctors are using it "off label." Another laser is in clinical trials now. Laser treatment for foot infections is not yet covered by insurance, and can cost about $1,000, but was shown to be 88 percent effective.