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Tattooing
Sep 10, 1997

I was diagnosed positive a couple of days ago. I am low risk and after going over my lifestyle extensively, my health care worker decided and I concur that the most likely place that I caught HIV from was a tattoo that I received in 1991. Apparently I shared bloody ink with someone who was also positive. My questions are: Why no symptoms for 6 years? 2) Is tattooing a common way to get AIDS? Thank you for your help

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. Tattooing does pose a risk of infection, however, transmission does not commonly occur this way. This is for several reasons. First of all, most places that do tattoos are very careful regarding prevention of bloodborne diseases. If tattooists were not careful and people got bloodborne diseases there (like HIV/AIDS), the tattooist would ultimately go out of business (since people would be scared to go there). Most reputable tattooists are professionals who take great care to prevent transmission of bloodborne diseases. Besides HIV, transmission of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also occur, if tattoo needles are shared. Hepatitis B poses the greatest risk, and this virus has been transmitted through sharing of tattoo needles. However, since most tattooists take steps to prevent transmission of HIV and the Hepatitis viruses, HIV transmission through this route is very uncommon. In addition to this, since HIV dies very quickly once it is outside the body, the likelihood of HIV transmission is very small. However, the Hepatitis B virus can survive for many hours (or even days) outside the body, much longer than HIV. As stated above, a much greater risk (if needles and ink were shared) would be for the Hepatitis viruses, especially Hepatitis B. So overall, the risks for HIV from getting a tattoo are actually quite small, as long as the tattooist follows established infection control guidelines. Some local governments impose infection control requirements for tattooists practicing in their jurisdiction, further reducing the risks of transmission through tattoos.

Having no symptoms after 6 years is not unusual. Remember, the average period of time from infection, to showing symptoms related to AIDS, is approximately 10 years. You could potentially go for many more years before you begin to show symptoms.

In your case, getting infected through a tattoo is quite unusual, but not impossible. Remember, HIV is transmitted the exact same way as Hepatitis B, but Hepatitis B is much more infectious. Therefore, ways that Hepatitis B can be transmitted, would apply to HIV as well, but just to a lesser extent. If the tattoo you got was the source of your infection, your tattooist was not following established infection control guidelines (which were already in effect back in 1991). Getting HIV though a tattoo is uncommon, but it is always a possibility if the tattooist is not following proper infection control practices.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).



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