Valentine’s Day body art: tattooing link to HCV

By: Dr. Oralia Garcia Dominic


In the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the month of February, and some people express their “love” with body art, like tattooing.  Some people have their own or a loved one’s name tattooed, while others have images of a rose, a heart or shooting stars tattooed on their arms, legs, neck, ankles, wrists and other body parts. Many people question if it is right or wrong to get a tattoo. But I want you to question if it is safe to get a tattoo.  Below are some facts about tattoos that you should know.


Fact 1: The body-art industry is unregulated in Pennsylvania.

This means that there is no current policy that requires tattoo artists to pass a test or be licensed to operate in Pennsylvania.  Other professions, like nurses, pharmacists, doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists, funeral directors, barbers/hairdressers, landscape architects, insurance brokers and real estate agents, to name a few, all require a state license or certificate to practice in Pennsylvania. Tattoo artists are not required to have a license.

Furthermore, currently, there is no policy that requires the Pennsylvania Department of Health to inspect tattoo parlors. This means that the public has to “trust” that the tattoo parlor is practicing safety standards and safe techniques, like using new needles, sterile instruments and uncontaminated ink at all times.


Fact 2: The location where a person gets a tattoo matters.

In 2002, a famous celebrity by the name of Pamela Anderson publicly reported that she had contracted Hepatitis C supposedly from sharing tattoo needles with her husband at the time.  Researchers are hoping that people will do some research about where to get a tattoo since there may be a link between body art and Hepatitis C.


Fact 3: Know the facts about the Hepatitis C virus (HCV).

The CDC defines HVC as a contagious disease that can be an acute (short-term) or chronic (lifelong) illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with HCV, a blood-borne virus that is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Millions of American have HCV, but most do not know it. The best way to prevent HCV is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs or using unsterile needles.

In the United States, there have been no known reports of HCV outbreaks linked to professional tattoo parlors. However, the CDC reports that HCV risk is lower with licensed, commercial tattooing facilities. The CDC also reports that HCV risk increases with unregulated tattooing and piercing that occurs at a friend’s home, in prisons, at your private home and other informal and unregulated settings where tattoos are more likely to be done with unsterile instruments and/or contaminated ink.

The CDC also recommends that all persons born from 1945 to 1965 should get tested for HCV because they have the highest rates of HCV.


Fact 4: HCV can be prevented and treated if you already have it.

You can prevent HCV by lowering your risk and through screening, which consists of a blood test. Testing identifies people living with HCV so they can get medical care to help prevent serious liver damage and liver cancer.

According to the CDC, many people with chronic HCV do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. In fact, people with chronic HCV can live for decades without symptoms or feeling sick. When symptoms do appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease. Symptoms of HCV can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-colored stools, joint pain and/or jaundice. Treatments are available that can save your life.


Enjoy your Valentine’s Day no matter how you wish to celebrate it.  I hope you find this information useful. Remember, always question if tattooing is safe. This is also true for any behavior that can put you at increased risk for diseases.

Send your questions to ¡Hola, Oralia! at Take good care of yourself, stay healthy and be well. Together we can help keep Pennsylvania residents healthy. ¡Salud! ◆

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