Hepatitis C and Tattooing: Mind the Needle!

While Coronavirus has been a hot topic for the past few years, there’s yet another type of virus everyone should watch out for: the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). But, you shouldn’t be too worried! This one is not as easily transmitted as Coronavirus. However, HCV can still cause a non-symptomatic and long-lasting liver disease. In a small number of patients, it can even cause end-stage liver diseases such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.

HCV is a blood-borne infection, which means you need percutaneous contact with the blood or body fluids of an individual with HCV infection to contract the disease. Usually, your skin is a strong fortification against the virus. Nonetheless, this virus can pass this barrier easily through sharp objects such as tattoo needles. Yes! Tattooing can increase the risk of contracting a few infectious diseases such as hepatitis C. However, this is not the case for tattoos made by well-trained pro tattoo artists. These guys know their job and they know how to sterilize their instruments to bring the risk to zero for their clients. It is mostly in amateur or illegal tattoo parlors where we find may find a problem. A study by Poulin et al. found non-professional tattooing inside the prison as a risk factor for HCV infection in Quebec`s provincial correctional system. Any non-professional form of tattooing, such as the use of tattoo home kits, can put you at risk of HCV transmission. There are precautions and safety measures, that everyone engaged in tattoo art should follow to make tattooing safe in terms of transmission of viral infections. While this may be stressful for those with a history of non-professional tattooing, there is also some good news: HCV testing is very easy to access, and, through the available treatments, it is possible to eliminate the virus.

The laboratory of Dr. Didier Jutras-Aswad is contributing to a cohort study of HCV infection among people who inject drugs (HEPCO study) in Montreal. You can find more information here.