A recent study published in the medical journal Hepatology, confirms the definite link between tattoos and hepatitis C. This study authored by researchers (Kerrilynn Carney and colleagues) at NYU Langone Medical Center, New York studied almost 2000 patients, and for the first time controlled for IV drug use, blood transfusions, and other commonly associated risk factors for hepatitis C.

The results confirmed that:

“Tattooing is associated with HCV infection, even among those without traditional HCV risk factors such as injection drug use and blood transfusion prior to 1992.”

The end result as this information spreads will be that the society at large will begin to associate hepatitis C with tattoos alone, just as it associates IV drug use with HIV and Hep C. When you go to the doctor and they see a tattoo, they will begin to test for Hep C simply because of this common and proven association.

People could begin to avoid drinking beverages after others with tattoos for fear they are drinking after a person with Hep C.

As youths assert their independence on their journey to adulthood, many choose to make an impulsively bold statement permanently on their body, they get a tattoo.  Too many of them choose a neighborhood artist with a tattoo machine as their tattooist of choice.

These untrained individuals expose their clients and themselves to potentially deadly infectious diseases.  Sitting in the back of corner stores or in neighborhood beauty salons, they set up shop with limited knowledge of infection control, exposure risks, or blood product disposal practices. Because they haven’t been properly trained, many unknowingly and frequently unintentionally, are putting all of us at risk.  These ‘make-shift’ tattoo parlors are springing up everywhere in both urban and rural environments, and local health departments don’t have the resources, or community mandate, to crack down on this growing threat to public health.

While getting a tattoo is trendy and widespread, young people’s ability to access a tattoo varies greatly.  If you have money, you can buy a well-thought-out elaborate tattoo with great art work for a few hundred dollars. When you don’t have access to money, you can go to Big Jim’s house and get a tattoo for $40.  The difference, aside from the quality of art, depth, clarity, and colors is the homemade tattoo potentially comes with a life-long infection, the most common of which is hepatitis C.

A recent study from Massachusetts, and reported by the Center for Disease Control, discussed a rise in the incidence of Hepatitis C among young people age 15 to 24. The increase was equally seen in both men and woman. While the overall occurrence of Hepatitis C in people of all ages is going down, the incidence is this targeted group is curiously rising. A detailed look at the data showed that drug use (especially IV drug use) and an increased presence of tattoos occurred much more frequently in the Hepatitis C identified patients. Sharing needles of any kind (IV drugs or tattoo needles as done in unregulated tattoo environments) presents a great risk to the general public.

The major problem with hepatitis is identifying the source and time of infection. A recently acquired hepatitis infection can look just like the average flu in younger people, who essentially are ‘down’ a few days with fatigue, muscle aches, and nasal or sinus congestion. Because of these mild initial symptoms, many teens are acutely infected, stay home a few days, never see a doctor, and recover enough to spread it on to the next victim. Neither has a clue that a potentially life altering disease is thriving inside of them. They then decide to get a tattoo in someone’s basement or backyard and the infections continue unaltered, thus the rise in the incidence of hepatitis C in young people alone!

There are between 5 and 7 million people infected with Hepatitis B and C, and as much as two thirds of them have no idea that they’re infected. This is a problem. Since they don’t know they’re infected, they don’t seek medical attention, and they don’t know to be extra careful with contamination, and neither does the corner store tattooist.

If the CDC recommends not sharing tooth brushes, nail clips, or razors if hepatitis is present, surely sharing a tattoo needle, ink tubing, and Vaseline would be out of the question. The amateur tattooists don’t know about universal precautions, and don’t make enough money to afford the waste of materials needed to properly protect each person getting a tattoo. The 3 to 5 million “carriers” of hepatitis don’t know to be careful, and the rest of us don’t know to avoid their blood.