Art of Getting Hepatitis C
a tattoo can lead to liver disease
April 9 (HealthScout) -- Get a tattoo and you may be acquiring
more than artwork on flesh, say researchers at the University
of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
appears to be the most common route of spreading the hepatitis
C virus, even when you take into account the other risk
factors such as IV drug use, prior blood transfusions, sexual
promiscuity, acupuncture, electrolysis and ethnic
factors," says Dr. Robert Haley, chief of epidemiology
and co-author of the study.
researchers also found that the people in the study who had
received a tattoo in a commercial tattoo parlor were nine
times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than those
who didn't have a tattoo, and that commercially acquired
tattoos accounted for more than twice as many hepatitis C
infections as injection-drug use.
means that it [tattooing] may have been the largest single
contributor to the nationwide epidemic of this form of
hepatitis," Haley says.
findings appear in the March issue of the journal Medicine.
has always been an obvious risk for hepatitis C, but there
haven't been very many studies on it," says Mari Stewart,
a nurse practitioner at the University of California/San Diego
Liver Center. "This has been an area of controversy, and
the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has never
made a strong statement against tattoos, but not because they
think tattoos are safe, but because there hasn't been enough
data. This looks like a well done study."
4 million Americans are chronically infected with hepatitis C
and about 36,000 more become infected each year.
has long been a suspect in spreading diseases. Hepatitis B,
syphilis, leprosy and tuberculosis are also linked to
commercial tattoo parlors.
researchers tested 626 people who were going to a clinic for
reasons other than blood-borne diseases. Of these, 113 had
tattoos, and 25 (22 percent) of these were infected with
hepatitis C. Fifty-two of the 113 people had gotten their
tattoos in a commercial parlor, and 17 (33 percent) of them
had the disease. By contrast, only 3.5 percent of patients
with no tattoos had hepatitis C.
were likelier to contract the virus if they had several
tattoos or complex or large ones. And color mattered: white,
yellow, orange or red colors increased the risk more than just
having a plain black tattoo did. The risk was also higher if
the person had a history of drug use, drank beer heavily or
was a hospital custodial worker. Interestingly, people who
drank only wine or liquor had no increased risk.
in the study were tested in 1991 and 1992, says the study's
co-author Dr. Paul Fischer. The findings weren't published
until now because other studies at the time were expected to
address the issue, but they didn't, says Fischer, now with
Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. "This was the last study
done before widespread hepatitis C testing began, when a
largely unbiased study could still be done."
people who have hepatitis C don't know it because it usually
has no symptoms until years or decades after being infected.
The first sign of problems may appear only after the liver is
badly damaged because of cirrhosis or cancer.
many tattoo parlor artists say they follow state health
department regulations, it's virtually impossible to tell
whether they do, Haley says.
artists use a vibrating instrument, and blood can get up into
these devices and mingle with the blood of the next patient.
Between each customer, the whole device needs to be cleaned,
and I can tell you that that's very difficult. Some artists
even break sterile technique by pricking the backs of their
hands to test the needle's sharpness," says Haley.
earlier studies of tattoo recipients have shown that few
compare tattoo parlors or watch a tattooing procedure before
getting one, Haley says, "and few consider tattooing a
future health risk."
you already have a tattoo, get tested.
just to know whether you are positive for hepatitis C, but
there are treatments that can rid you of the virus and prevent
cirrhosis and liver cancer," advises Haley. "They
are expensive and have side effects, but they eradicate the
virus about half the time."
you must have a tattoo, consider the temporary variety. They
are cheap, painless and last for weeks. But if you want the
real thing, "look at the Web sites that have safety
checklists," Stewart says. "There is risk associated