Tattooing, manicures may increase risk of hepatitis C

It’s graduation time, and many grads are heading to the tattoo studio for their first body art experience. They may want to think twice, or at least take precautions.

There has been much discussion lately about the alarming rise in hepatitis C, especially the growing number of deaths from this liver-destroying disease.

While sharing a needle during illegal drug use is the biggest risk factor for contracting hepatitis C, there are increasing numbers of cases caused by some very common activities including tattooing, piercings, manicures and pedicures. With proper precautions, these risks can be avoided.

Hepatitis C is a viral disease that scars the liver and can lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis. Most people with hepatitis C do not have symptoms and don’t even know they have the virus until the damage is done. It can live and grow undetected for decades before symptoms are detected. Hepatitis C has recently surpassed HIV as a killer of adults in the U.S. and is a leading reason for liver transplants.

Since hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus, it is spread through direct contact with infected blood. To eliminate the risk of spreading the virus, it is important that all equipment that may come in contact with blood is properly disinfected. This as true for salons as it is for tattoo studios.

Professionals are required to have sterile instruments; however, many people choose to have their tattoos or piercings done by friends. According to medical epidemiologist Rania Tohme, MD, MPH, of the Centers for Disease Control, “Tattoos and piercings can transmit hepatitis C and other infections if performed under non-sterile conditions.” Tohme emphasized, “People should not have tattoos or piercings done by friends or by people who are not trained (and regulated) professionals.”

Manicures and pedicures also pose a significant potential for contracting the hepatitis C virus. Insist upon sterilized equipment. The most effective way to ensure safe equipment is autoclave sterilization which uses high pressure saturated steam at 121 degrees Celsius for 15-20 minutes to kill bacteria. If you are not certain that autoclave sterilization is performed at your salon, it is a good idea to take your own equipment.

There is a blood test that can determine if you are carrying the hepatitis C virus. And new medications have been able to cure the virus in some cases if found early. But being aware and cautious can help you avoid the risk of hepatitis C.


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