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Risk of hepatitis C infection grows with each tattoo

Tat3.jpgLifestyles change; boyfriends come and go; skin sags. Tattoos hang around. That permanence, I've always assumed, is the only real downside of body art.

I've been wrong. Researchers at the University of British Columbia, who conducted a meta-analysis of 83 previous studies, say extensive tattooing also introduces the risk of hepatitis C and other blood-borne-disease infection. In fact, a person's risk of acquiring hepatitis C is directly related to how many tattoos they have:

During tattooing, the skin is punctured 80 to 150 times a second in order to inject color pigments.

"Since tattoo instruments come in contact with blood and bodily fluids, infections may be transmitted if instruments are used on more than one person without being sterilized or without proper hygiene techniques," says lead author Dr. Siavash Jafari, a Community Medicine Resident in the UBC School of Population and Public Health (SPPH).

"Furthermore, tattoo dyes [which the researchers say sometimes contain house paint, computer-printer ink and industrial carbon] are not kept in sterile containers and may play a carrier role in transmitting infections," says Jafari.

The researchers recommend stronger prevention programs targeted at young people, who are most likely to get tattoos, and prisoners, who are affected disproportionately by hepatitis C.

Photo by William Cho

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