Tattooing poses HCV risk

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is more common in people who have had a tattoo, research shows.

Significantly, this relationship held true in patients without other risk factors for infection, such as a history of blood transfusion or injection drug use.

"These findings have important implications for screening non-injection drug users in the United States, particularly since the prevalence of tattooing is on the rise and intravenous drug use is on the decline," say Fritz Francois (New York University, USA) and colleagues.

The study included 1930 patients with chronic HCV infection and 1941 HCV-negative controls.

Injection drug use (64.9 vs 17.8%) and blood transfusion prior to 1992 (22.3 vs 11.1%) were both significantly more common in HCV-positive patients than HCV-negative patients, as expected.

However, the authors also found that having had at least one tattoo was associated with a 3.7-fold increase in the odds of HCV infection, after adjusting for confounders, such as injection drug use, blood transfusion history, ethnicity, income, reported sex with prostitutes and body piercings.

When the authors excluded patients who had injection drug use history or had a blood transfusion before 1992, this rose to a 5.2-fold increase in the odds of infection, and an 8.2-fold increase when intranasal drug users were also excluded.

HCV could be transmitted during tattooing through the use of nondisposable needles, inadequate sterilization of equipment, or the reuse of ink contaminated with blood, explain the authors.

However, previous studies into the association between HCV-infection and tattooing have led to conflicting results, and have not always adequately controlled for additional risk factors.

"Our study confirms the association between tattoo exposure and hepatitis C infection in a very large ethnically diverse population of HCV cases and uninfected controls," write Francois and colleagues in Hepatology.

They say that their findings could lead to changes in HCV screening practices. "All patients who have tattoos should be considered at higher risk for HCV infection and should be offered HCV counseling and testing."

Licensed from medwireNews with permission from Springer Healthcare Ltd. ©Springer Healthcare Ltd. All rights reserved. Neither of these parties endorse or recommend any commercial products, services, or equipment.

Kirsty Oswald

Written by

Kirsty Oswald

Kirsty has a B.Sc. in Human Sciences from University College London. After several years working as medical copywriter, she became a medical journalist and is now freelance. Kirsty also works part-time as an editor for a London-based charity. She is particularly interested in the social and cultural aspects of science.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Oswald, Kirsty. (2018, August 23). Tattooing poses HCV risk. News-Medical. Retrieved on June 18, 2019 from

  • MLA

    Oswald, Kirsty. "Tattooing poses HCV risk". News-Medical. 18 June 2019. <>.

  • Chicago

    Oswald, Kirsty. "Tattooing poses HCV risk". News-Medical. (accessed June 18, 2019).

  • Harvard

    Oswald, Kirsty. 2018. Tattooing poses HCV risk. News-Medical, viewed 18 June 2019,


  1. Nathan McEleney Nathan McEleney United States says:

    Although this information sounds accurate, it fails to ask WHERE the people that have tattoos and HCV got their tattoos from.
    It's easy to say that people with tattoos are 4x more likely to have contracted the HCV virus, but these findings are unclear about how many of these people got their tattoos from unlicensed "artists" working out of their homes, as opposed to getting them from a legitimate shop, where the work is regulated by the local Board of Health.
    As the popularity of tattooing increases, so does the popularity of the "home artist" (or 'scratcher', as they are known in the tattooing industry). These scratchers generally use unsafe practices and are more likely to pass on viruses to their clients than a legitimate tattooer.
    I came across this article from Google News' RSS with the search parameter set to 'tattooing'. Here is a link:
    I'm willing to bet that if you were to use that link, there'd be more than 4 news articles within the first 10 that report about illegal tattooing. It's becoming a real problem, not only for real tattooers, but for the health of the general public.
    It's articles like these that perpetuate the mentality of uninformed (or misinformed)  individuals that getting a tattoo poses unnecessary risk. The fact being that your chances of contracting ANY virus from a legitimate tattooer working at a regulated tattoo shop are slim to none. In fact, as of this writing, there have been NO reported cases of ANYONE, EVER contracting HIV or AIDS from a tattoo shop, and only a few reported cases of anyone contracting HCV (or Hepatitis C).
    I sure would be interested in where the participants in this study with tattoos and HCV received their tattoos from. Most certainly not from a tattoo shop.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
Post a new comment
You might also like... ×
Bridging the Gaps to Advance Research in the Cannabis Industry