Your liver health can be affected by your everyday habits, such as the foods you eat and whether or not you drink alcohol. But many people with serious chronic liver conditions suffer from poor liver health not due to their lifestyles, but because of a one-time occurrence, such as having had a blood transfusion before 1992, or injecting drugs at some point in their lives. Now, experts are warning of one other risk factor—and it’s something that over 30 percent of Americans have done. Read on to learn whether you should have your liver checked based on this potential threat to your liver health.
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Experts warn that many individuals who suffer from hepatitis are unaware that they have the condition. “About 50 percent of people with hepatitis C do not know they are infected,” warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This poses a significant health challenge, since the liver condition “is a leading cause of liver transplants and liver cancer,” the health authority acknowledges.
Similarly, about two thirds of people with hepatitis B—also known to lead to liver cancer—do not know they are infected.
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A 2006 study conducted by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases reviewed data from 3,871 individuals—half with hepatitis C and half without—and found that those who had one or more tattoos were at significantly higher risk of having hepatitis C.
The study concluded that people with hepatitis C (HCV) were roughly four times more likely to have tattoos, compared with the control group. The researchers controlled for traditional risk factors for hepatitis C, such as a history of having injected drugs, or having a blood transfusion prior to 1992. “Among these individuals without traditional risk factors, HCV positive patients remained significantly more likely to have a history of one or more tattoos after adjustment for age, sex, and race/ethnicity,” the study authors wrote.
Not all tattoos pose an equal threat. The conditions of the parlor itself can make a significant difference in your safety, and tattoos completed under sanitary conditions have not been linked with increased risk of hepatitis B or C.
“Needles and other equipment used contribute to the risk of cross-contamination and disease,” experts from the University of Michigan explain. “If equipment is not new or properly sterilized, or if proper hygienic guidelines are not followed, blood-borne diseases, like hepatitis B and C (which may lead to life-long liver damage and subsequent liver cancer), HIV, tetanus and tuberculosis, may be transmitted,” they warn.
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If you plan on getting a tattoo, it’s important to exercise proper precautions—and to make sure the tattoo parlor you choose does, too.
University of Michigan experts recommend first ensuring that the parlor space is kept very clean, and has separately designated areas for piercing and tattooing. They add that needles should only ever be used once, and should always be opened in front of the customer. Additional sterilization equipment should be used for the remainder of the equipment, and staff should both wash their hands and put on latex gloves before beginning each procedure. Ink should be prepared in a single-use cup, and then disposed of afterward.
If you are still unsure about a tattoo parlor’s safety protocols, ask questions and be prepared to walk away if you feel uncomfortable.