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Hepatitis C Linked to Tattoo Ink

January 25, 2013

Fritz Francois, M.D., a researcher from New York University Langone Medical Center, reports that people with hepatitis C are four times more likely to have tattoos, regardless of other risk factors. The estimate is based on a study of 2,000 hepatitis C-infected people who had not received a blood transfusion before 1992 or reported a history of injecting drugs.

According to CDC, 3.2 million people in the United States have hepatitis C, although some may not realize it because they have not yet developed symptoms. Injected drug use is responsible for 60 percent of new hepatitis C diagnoses each year; 70 percent of those infected develop chronic liver disease, the leading U.S. cause of liver transplants and liver cancer. CDC reports that 20 percent of hepatitis C-infected people say they have no history of injected drug use. A 2012 Harris poll estimated that 20 percent of people have a tattoo.

CDC spokesperson Scott Holmberg, M.D. recommends that people who want to be tattooed go to a trained professional for piercings or tattooing. Because there are no federal regulations for tattoo parlors and standards vary from state to state, Francois urges people to research tattoo parlors carefully. According to the Alliance for Professional Tattooists, it is important to find a tattooist who uses disposable gloves, "a clean workspace without blood spatters, and single-use, disposable needles."

The full report, "Association of Tattooing and Hepatitis C Virus Infection: A Multicenter Case-Control Study," was published online in the journal Hepatology (2013; doi: 10.1002/hep.26245).

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