Study finds connection between tattoos, hepatitis C
Published: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 6:04 p.m.
People seeking to get a tattoo should be picky about the parlor they have them done at, U.S. researchers said in response to a study that found a link between body art and hepatitis C, the leading cause of liver cancer.
According to the study, which appeared in the journal Hepatology, people with the hepatitis C virus, which is blood borne, were almost four times more likely to report having a tattoo, even when other major risk factors were taken into account “Tattooing in and of itself may pose a risk for this disease that can lay dormant for many, many years,” said study co-author Fritz Francois of New York University Langone Medical Center, although he warned that the study could not produce a direct cause and effect.
About 3.2 million people in the United States have hepatitis C, and many don't know because they don't feel ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplants in the United States. About 70 percent of people infected will develop chronic liver disease, and up to 5 percent will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer.
For the study, researchers asked almost 2,000 people about their tattoos and hepatitis status, among other question, at outpatient clinics at three New York area hospitals between 2004 and 2006.
They found that 34 percent of people with hepatitis C had a tattoo, compared with 12 percent of people without the infection.
The most common routes of infection for hepatitis C are through a blood transfusion before 1992 or a history of injected drug use. Injected drug use accounts for 60 percent of new hepatitis cases a year, but 20 percent have no history of either injected drug use or other exposure, according to the CDC.
Francois and his colleagues only included people with hepatitis C who did not contract it from these two other common sources.
After accounting for other risk factors, the difference between people with and without hepatitis was even greater, with four times as many tattoos in the infected group than for uninfected people.
“This is not a big surprise to me,” said John Levey, clinical chief of gastroenterology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. Earlier studies had found a link, but they were small and had not taken other risk factors into account as well as the new study did.
But the CDC's Scott Holmberg said the link may not be quite as strong as the findings suggest, because some people who used illegal drugs probably would not admit it, even on an anonymous questionnaire. And they didn't rule out people who picked up hepatitis before getting their tattoo.
Holmberg recommends that people only have tattoos or piercings done by trained professionals, noting that there have been no reports of hepatitis C outbreaks linked to professional tattoo parlors in the United States.
Tattoo parlors are not federally regulated, and standards vary by state and region. The Alliance for Professional Tattooists recommend finding a tattoo artist who wears disposable gloves, a clean workspace without blood spatters and single-use disposable needle kits.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Boy has emergency, dies on flight to visit family
- GOP unlikely to block ban on plastic guns
- Survivors honor Pearl Harbor’s heroes
- Car hits deer, which flies into jogger
- Cold snap ices roads, cuts power to thousands
- Deported vet glad he’s back in states
- U.S. apple growers eye open trade with China
- Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky promises new GOP on way
- Obama puts odds of nuclear deal at 50-50
- FBI’s elite surveillance team trying to find ‘Mo’
- Beer black market exploits enthusiasts, ignores law