Over the warmer months in Australia, doctors anticipate the usual seasonal spike in piercing-related infections, and now they are offering advice on how to avoid them.
Less-than-sterile conditions can lead to the spread of disease, warned Dr. Steve Hambleton, vice president of the Australian Medical Association, which has created a consumer pamphlet on the topic.
"Piercing is not a simple procedure, and it is also not always a safe procedure," Hambleton said. "There are significant risks of diseases such as hepatitis B and C and HIV/AIDS being transmitted in unsafe piercing studios, or when piercing is done by unqualified friends or relatives in non-sterile conditions."
Other risks outlined in the brochure include speech impediments and chipped teeth that can result from tongue piercings, and problems with breastfeeding caused by scarring from a nipple piercing.
"Piercing genitals is a decision that should not be taken lightly," and the procedure is outlawed for minors in some Australian states. "An infection here is not only painful, but can be very serious." Unsterile piercings can lead to blood poisoning, toxic shock syndrome or blocked airways.
Many studios ensure sterility by purchasing pre-packed sterile equipment, Hambleton said. Consumers who are considering piercings should check that "everything that is used to penetrate your skin is in sealed bags and opened in your presence," he said. Where instruments are not pre-packaged, ask the piercer whether the shop uses a sterilizing unit. "If you think the studio is not up to standard, then trust your instinct and do not get a piercing there," he said.
The brochure is posted at www.ama.com.au/node/5286.