Tattoos and Body Piercing: a Health Hazard for Body Artists

By | February 3, 2014

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Tattoos became popular among teens and motorcycle riders in the mid 1990’s, a form of personal expression that soon evolved into a living art attracting professionals and well known artists alike. But it wasn’t until recent years that the federal government started looking into this practice to reveal how body artists expose themselves to dangerous and permanent illnesses.

They range from the simple initials of a loved one, to the intricate colorful designs of esoteric images that reveal something about the personality of those who express themselves through their bodies. Now the focus is shifting toward the artists behind those simple and intricate designs, after the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) began studying how they expose themselves to bloodborne disease and how to prevent it.

The institute is trying to help develop practices that might reduce the health hazards body artists are exposed to in their work places; they may be at risk by “getting stuck with a used needle or if blood splashes into their eyes, nose, or mouth,” they say. “Because of this, tattoo artists and body pierces may also be exposed to a bloodborne pathogen such as hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).”

NIOSH, as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), conducts research and makes recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illnesses. NIOSH recently met with the Association for Professional Pierces (APP), the Alliance of Professional Tattooists, Inc. (APT), and other government and related associations, as a follow up to their surveys completed in 1999 and 2000, where they identified the higher risks of body artists exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

One of the reasons for their concerns is the popularity of tattoos and body piercing. This individualistic expression has become more accepted, and now you can even see lawyers, doctors and other professionals boasting there special and personally meaningful designs tattooed on their bodies.

Tattoos are common among artists too. Britney Spears has a fairy tattooed on her lower back. Model and actress Vide Guerra has a rose on her ankle, and a little devil just below her bikini line; model Carmen Electra has “Eleven XXII” (her wedding date), under her left wrist.

As the practice of getting once body pierced or tattooed continues to grow, the dangers to body artists will grow as well. In the mean time, NIOSH has come up with some recommendations to help living art professionals reduce their risk of being exposed to dangerous viruses: vaccinating, preventing needle-stick injuries, and becoming more informed about safety practices in body piercing and tattooing. But better practices are not circumscribed to those dangers; NIOSH will have to address also the potential to develop back and neck problems – among others – and how to prevent them.

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