February 8, 2012
Tattoos applied by non-professionals appear to carry a risk of hepatitis C virus infection, says a new report from CDC. However, no increased risk of HCV infection was found for tattoos and piercings received in professional parlors, according to an analysis of several dozen studies published since 1994.
While new HCV cases have fallen sharply in the United States since the 1980s, according to CDC, there are still roughly 18,000 new cases a year -- most linked to needle-sharing. However, in almost 20 percent of acute cases the person has no known risk factor, said Dr. Rania A. Tohme, a medical epidemiologist at CDC who led the study. Given this, and the popularity of tattooing, there have been concerns that body art could be an HCV risk factor. The new study recommends that consumers avoid getting tattooed by non-professionals, Tohme said.
The risk of HCV infection was significant, especially among high-risk groups, when tattoos were applied in prison settings or by friends. People who had tattoos done by non-professionals faced an HCV risk that was two to four times higher than average.
Tattooing in prison is a special concern, since the practice is so common and many prisoners have other HCV risk factors, said the study authors. Outbreaks of HCV have been linked to tattooing among prisoners. "To this date, there has been no evidence that tattoos and piercings performed in professional parlors in the United States have been implicated in transmission of hepatitis C virus," Tohme said.
"Tattoos and piercings can transmit hepatitis C and other infections if performed under non-sterile conditions," Tohme said. "People should not have tattoos or piercings done by friends or by people who are not trained professionals."
The full study, "Transmission of Hepatitis C Virus Infection Through Tattooing and Piercing: A Critical Review," was published in Clinical Infectious Diseases (2012;doi:10.1093/cid/cir991).