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Is the health risk worth that tattoo?

April 16, 2002|BY KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Thinking about getting tattooed or pierced?

Maybe you want to think again - about the possible risk of infection - from blood-borne viruses, including HIV, hepatitis B and C.

OK. Here's the doom and gloom from Mom and the establishment medical community.

You probably know about AIDs, but the hepatitis viruses also are not fun.

They can damage the liver- causing lifelong infection, cirrhosis or scarring, cancer and ultimately death.

The Centers for Disease Control cites risk of infection if instruments are not sterilized or disinfected or are used inappropriately between clients. The CDC, the federal agency established to protect Americans' health and safety, recommends that instruments used to penetrate the skin be used once and then be disposed of or thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.

Tattoo parlors should also use new vials of ink for each client, says John G. Newly, M.D., director of laboratories at Washington County Health System.

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Are you sure all safety measures are being taken?

You need to be.

Newby calls hepatitis B "exquisitely infectious." Here's the scoop from Newby citing animal studies done in the mid-1970s. It takes 10,000 viral particles to get HIV. The infectious dose to get hepatitis B in those studies was two viral particles.

"There's a concerning increase in the cases of hepatitis C, especially among young people. We're not sure why," Newby says.

So. Planning to get a little body art during beach week in Ocean city, Md.?

Your memento of the summer could be a diseased liver and a transplant when you're 40, Newby says.

"The risk certainly outweighs the fashion," he adds.

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