Tattoo parties raise risk of hepatitis

17 September 2010

Concern is growing in Australia that backyard tattooing could be fuelling transmission of blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis C.

Health workers say teenagers are buying tattoo guns on the Internet and inking each other with little understanding of how to keep the equipment sterile. Some young people believe changing the needles is sufficient, not understanding that blood gets into the ink containers, they say.

A Facebook campaign against backyard tattooing identified that Australian young people were gathering for “tattoo parties”.

Margaret Johnson, creator of the Facebook page Fight Against Backyard Tattooing and co-owner of a licensed tattoo studio in Brisbane, said legislation was needed to prevent sales of tattoo guns to non-professionals. “People who have no qualifications and know nothing about blood-borne diseases or cross-contamination are buying equipment off eBay and are tattooing at home”, she said.

Professional tattooists were seeing increasing numbers of botched tattoos, skin infections and septicaemia, she said, adding she knew of 2 women who had contracted hepatitis C from backyard tattooing.

Hepatitis Australia CEO Helen Tyrrell said there was little hard evidence about hepatitis infection from tattooing. “It could be fuelling a whole new level of the hepatitis C epidemic – we just don’t know”, she said.

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