Tattoos and piercings may not increase the risk for viral hepatitis

Tattooing and piercing are considered risk factors for hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus infection.  The use of unsterilized needles, forceps, jewelry and contaminated pigments can result in blood borne infections, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV infections.

To examine whether tattooing and piercing increase the risk of Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections, researchers conducted a study among people with multiple tattoos and/or piercings who acquired their tattoos and piercings in the Netherlands and/or abroad.

 

body piercing, tattoo and hepatitis
Navel piercing close up. Photo by: Gabuchan 
Source:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/gabuchan/2009075

HBV and HCV can both become chronic infections, causing liver cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation.  HBV is transmitted by sexual and  blood contacts.  HCV is primarily a blood-borne infection and is the most common chronic blood borne infection in the United States. 

The researchers, Urbanus and colleagues from Public Health Service and the University of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands recruited tattoo artists, piercers, and people with multiple tattoos and/or piercings at tattoo conventions and shops. Study participants were interviewed and tested for antibodies to HBV and HCV.

The investigators failed to find an increased prevalence of antibodies to HBV or HCV among these subjects. The lack of increased prevalence infection with multiple tattoo/piercing, according to the authors, might be due to the introduction of hygiene guidelines for tattoo and piercing shops and the low observed prevalence of HBV/HCV in the general population.

Based upon their findings, the authors recommend that low and high endemic countries may implement hygienic guidelines for tattoo and piercing shops, including permanent make-up salons, to decrease the potential risk of HBV and HCV transmission.

Publication: People with Multiple Tattoos and/or Piercings Are Not at Increased Risk for HBV or HCV in The Netherlands. Urbanus AT, van den Hoek A, Boonstra A, van Houdt R, de Bruijn LJ, Heijman T, Coutinho RA and Prins M. (2011) PLoS ONE 6(9): e24736. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024736.