Individuals with multiple tattoos that cover large parts of their bodies are at higher risk of contracting hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases, a new study has said.
University of British Columbia researchers reviewed and analyzed 124 studies from 30 countries, including Canada, Iran, Italy, Brazil and the United States, and found the incidence of hepatitis C after tattooing is directly linked with the number of tattoos an individual receives.
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," said lead author Dr. Siavash Jafari, of the UBC School of Population and Public Health (SPPH).
"Furthermore, tattoo dyes are not kept in sterile containers and may play a carrier role in transmitting infections.
"Clients and the general public need to be educated on the risks associated with tattooing, and tattoo artists need to discuss harms with clients," said Jafari.
Other risks of tattooing identified by the study include allergic reactions, HIV, hepatitis B, bacterial or fungal infections, and other risks associated with tattoo removal.
The researchers are calling for infection-control guidelines for tattoo artists and clients, and enforcement of these guidelines through inspections, reporting of adverse events and record-keeping.
They also recommend prevention programs that focus on youth - the population who are most likely to get tattoos - and prisoners - who face a higher prevalence of hepatitis C - to lower the spread of hepatitis infection.
In Canada, 12 to 25 per cent of hepatitis C infections among prisoners are associated with tattooed individuals, compared to six per cent of the general population.
The findings were published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.