Reuters Health Information (2013-01-24): Hepatitis C linked to ink
Hepatitis C linked to ink
Last Updated: 2013-01-24 18:30:27 -0400 (Reuters Health)
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study shows that people with hepatitis C are almost four times more likely to report having a tattoo, co-author Dr. Fritz Francois of New York University Langone Medical Center told Reuters Health.
Although the study could not prove a direct cause and effect, "Tattooing in and of itself may pose a risk for this disease that can lay dormant for many, many years," Dr. Francois said.
His team asked almost 2,000 people about their tattoos and hepatitis status, among other questions, at outpatient clinics at three New York area hospitals between 2004 and 2006.
They found that 34% of people with hepatitis C had a tattoo, compared to 12% of people without the infection.
The most common routes of contracting hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease, are through a blood transfusion before 1992 or a history of injected drug use. Injected drug use accounts for 60% of new hepatitis cases every year, but 20% of cases have no history of injected drug use or other exposure, according to the CDC.
Dr. 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, according to results published in Hepatology.
"This is not a big surprise to me," Dr. John Levey, clinical chief of gastroenterology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, told Reuters Health. Earlier studies had found a link, but they were small and had not taken other risk factors into account as well as this new one did.
"This was one of the stragglers, and now we finally have some numbers for it," said Dr. Levey, who was not involved in the study.
Still, the CDC's Dr. Scott Holmberg said the link may not be quite as strong as the findings suggest, because some people who had used illegal drugs probably would not admit it, even on an anonymous questionnaire. And the researchers didn't rule out people who contracted hepatitis before getting their tattoo.
Dr. Holmberg, of the CDC's viral hepatitis division, recommends people only have tattoos or piercings done by trained professionals.
"In the U.S., there have been no reports of hepatitis C outbreaks linked to professional tattoo parlors," told Reuters Health by email.
"There are very reputable places that use appropriate standards," said Dr. Francois. Tattoo parlors are not federally regulated, and standards vary by state and region, so it's up to the consumer to do their homework, he said.