Bloodborne Pathogens: Risks Associated With Bloodborne Tattoo and Piercings

Bloodborne Pathogens are diseases caused by microorganisms found in the blood and other potentially infectious materials. The different bloodborne pathogens are transmitted through contact with body fluid like semen, vaginal secretions, amniotic fluid, synovial fluid, mucous membrane, and exposure to blood. People at risk of occupational exposure include health care workers who perform certain types of laboratory work and are exposed to human blood. Aside from health care workers, the most common modes of transmission include unhygienic tattooing and piercing procedures. However, unlike in the past, when tattoos and body piercings were regarded with skepticism, the attitude constantly changed.

Can You Get Bloodborne Pathogens from Tattoos?

A previous study shows that three in every ten Americans have tattoos. The tattooing process involves piercing the skin with a sharp object and inking to create a permanent design. Unfortunately, some tattooists will use the same needle for different persons without considering the consequences. This sharing can lead to the transfer of infectious diseases. Many people see it as a small, temporary price to pay for permanent body art’s emotional and social benefits. But in reality, sometimes, complications from tattoos go beyond the skin. For example, you may contract bloodborne pathogens that cause severe, long-lasting health issues in these cases. Professional artists in parlors undergo training to reduce the risk, but exposure cases are still.

Read About- What is BBP Certification?  

bloodborne pathogens

Risk of Transmission from Tattoo Needles

The possibility of bloodborne infection by getting a tattoo is lower than other needle stick injuries. A needle is not like a syringe, where a vessel contains the liquid and injects it. Instead, it is dipped into ink, resting on the exterior, exposing it to air. The needle pushes the ink into your skin dermis when you get punctured. So there is a high risk of infection if the tattoo artist is not following the correct procedures.

Bloodborne pathogen diseases are fatal and difficult to treat. Although there is a wide range of bloodborne pathogens, three viruses are commonly linked to tattoos. These are HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C Virus. Others are malaria, brucellosis, and syphilis. In fact, a 2013 study by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases found a significantly higher risk of hepatitis C transmission if a person had at least one tattoo.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV):

HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus carried in blood and body fluids, and it causes AIDs acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. HIV was first discovered in the early ’80s. Since then, it has infected millions of people and led to the death of many. HIV attacks the healthy body cells that help fight infections, also known as CD 4 cells. The virus multiplies as it attacks these cells. As it advances, the body becomes susceptible to illnesses, and a condition referred to as AIDs. An individual is said to have AIDs when the virus destroys their body’s immune system.

Taking HIV medications suppresses the virus and prevents its progress. A person has AIDs when their CD 4 count is below 200 CD4 cells per cubic millimeter. The CD 4 cells of a healthy person are between 500 and 1600 per cubic millimeter. In other cases, a person is diagnosed with AIDs when their body is constantly catching opportunistic infections. Without treatment, persons with AIDs have a life expectancy of three years. Therefore, taking HIV medicine is life saving even for persons at the late stages of the disease.

Apart from piercings and tattoos, the virus spreads through unprotected sex with infected persons, blood transfusion, organ transplant, and needles. HIV has no cure but is manageable with proper medication. It also happens that the human body cannot fight the illness on its own, so the infected person carries the virus for a lifetime. The virus can live undetected within the human body until the late stages when the symptoms appear. Infected people can lead healthy lives and protect their loved ones from infection with proper medication, also known as antiretroviral therapy or ART. Transmission of HIV is preventable by using pre-exposure prophylaxis and post-exposure prophylaxis.

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP):

It is a preventive drug that healthy people take to reduce their risk of infection if exposed to the virus. The drug prevents HIV infection by taking hold of the virus and preventing its ability to multiply. The medication is prescribed to persons at high risk of exposure to the virus, and it prevents infection by 90%. These include persons who share needles for injection and those with HIV positive partners.

The drug is also used to prevent HIV infection soon after exposure. The drug should be taken immediately and is most effective when taken within three days of exposure to the virus. The drug should not be used for regular exposure to the virus. However, it can be used by persons who have had unprotected sex with an infected person. Persons prescribed PEP should take the drug every day for four weeks. After the prescribed period, the individual should go for testing. Testing for HIV is crucial even for healthy persons.

The disease can be controlled before it gets to the late stages when detected early. There are different HIV testing locations where you can get tested for free. Self testing is also possible by purchasing a testing kit. When infected with HIV, the individual experiences fatigue, sore throat, and fever. The late stages of the illness come with many symptoms, including recurrent infections, fatigue, sweat, fever, and weight loss.

bloodborne pathogens


Hepatitis viruses affect the liver by causing inflammation. Some types of hepatitis can be transmitted through tattooing and piercings, including Hepatitis B and C. The liver is a critical organ in the body performing functions like getting rid of toxins from the blood, regulating cholesterol, breaking down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, storing enzymes, and producing clotting factors. In addition, there is hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, and autoimmune hepatitis. Studies show that 4.4 million Americans live with hepatitis B and C viruses. Both hepatitis B and C viruses are transmitted through blood exposure and body fluids.

Hepatitis B (HBV):

Hepatitis B is a widespread illness, with most people having the infection unaware. Infection with hepatitis B occurs when the virus contained in blood or body fluid enters the body of a healthy person through open skin. For example, tattoos and body piercings can lead to HBV transmission. The incubation period for the virus is one and a half months to six months. On average, the disease takes four months to start showing symptoms. However, most people do not show any signs at this phase (acute stage).

The disease is preventable through Hepatitis B Vaccine and most healthy people who get infected successfully clear the infection at the acute stage with complete recovery. The victims who recover from the illness also acquire immunity towards the disease. However, for those whose immune systems cannot fight the disease within six months, the condition persists in their system for a lifetime. The long-term illness is termed a chronic hepatitis B infection. The recovery rate is lower in children under six years as only 10% clear the infection. At the chronic stage, the disease scars the liver (cirrhosis) for long periods of up to 20 years.

There are, however, people who do not show symptoms of the illness even with the virus in their system. Therefore, people with hepatitis B are at a higher risk of developing liver cancer. Persons with liver damage or cirrhosis are treated with antiviral drugs. The treatment lowers the risk of liver cancer or permanent liver damage.

Hepatitis B vaccines are very effective, providing 99% protection against infection. It is issued in three doses over six months. The immunity acquired after vaccination lasts for over 20years. In America, every child must receive the HBV vaccine immediately after birth. In addition, persons at high risk of exposure, such as tattooists and healthcare workers, must get vaccinated. You can also take a blood test to determine if you are immune to the virus, infected, or susceptible.

Hepatitis C (HCV):

HCV was first discovered in 1989 and is transmitted through tattoos and piercings. The virus also affects the liver and exists in different genotypes. Like the hepatitis B virus, the hepatitis C virus has an incubation period of six months. During this phase (acute stage), the infected person does not show any symptoms.

In other cases, the symptoms are too mild to be hardly felt. 40% of the people infected with HCV successfully clear the illness from their system. Chronic hepatitis C disease persists through six months and lasts for a lifetime. The long-term infection is also known as chronic hepatitis C infection. For persons with chronic hepatitis C, the liver gets damaged or scarred over time resulting in liver failure or cirrhosis. For others, the scarring process is too slow that it hardly affects the individual. Hepatitis C is treatable and curable within eight weeks.

Here is the- Study Guide for Blood Borne Pathogen  

Symptoms for hepatitis B and C are common, and they include:

  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Discolored urine
  • Light-colored stool.

Bloodborne pathogens are transmitted during tattooing processes and piercings through:

Sharing of the equipment:

Infection and exposure incidents can occur when the items used in these processes are used for multiple people without being sanitized. In addition, the viruses can stay on surfaces for periods ranging from hours to weeks. Therefore, in sharing piercing equipment, one infected person can infect as many people like those on whom the item is used.

Open skin (wounds, cuts, and piercings):

Tattooists and persons are at risk of infection if they have open skin on their hands. They can also accidentally pierce themselves using the same equipment getting infected. It is advisable for these people always to wear protective gloves when working. They should also be careful to avoid injuries that can cause illnesses. They should always seek treatment whenever exposed to other people’s blood, bodily fluids, and other potentially infectious materials

Some bloodborne disease in humans have no known cure, and people can’t be vaccinated against them. It is, therefore, critical for tattoo artists to exercise maximum precautions and practice controls to protect themselves and their clients against possible exposure.

bloodborne pathogens

How to Stay Safe from Bloodborne Pathogens?

Tattoo artists must follow safety protocols during the entire process, including preparations of equipment and after care. Personal protective equipment must be used and the tattoo artists should not reuse equipment between customers.

To make sure you are safe from Bloodborne diseases, it’s important to work with a professional tattoo artist that has BBP Certifications. At a federal level, the OSHA sets standards for bloodborne pathogen training for all states. In addition, 28 states use their OSHA-approved requirements. There is BBP Certification for Tattoo Artists available through various training centers. BBP Certification for tattoo artists consists of online training followed by a certification exam. After being certified, the tattoo artist must retake the training every year to maintain the certifications.

Learn How to Get a Bloodborne Pathogens Certificate?  

BBP Certification for a Tattoo Artist:

Bloodborne pathogens training program provides the necessary skills and knowledge to prevent deadly viruses and bacteria. Not just for tattoo artists, but healthcare professionals in contact with blood and bodily fluids should enroll in online bloodborne pathogen certification programs from certified institutions. These programs are readily available and easily accessible for interested persons at affordable rates. You can take our FREE BBP Practice test to test your knowledge in Bloodborne Pathogens.

There are no minimum qualifications for bloodborne pathogen training as they are open even for non-professionals. The online certification is easily suitable for people without sufficient time for physical classes. The course can be taken from anywhere with only a computer and internet connection.

Key Takeaways:

Tattoo artists must follow safety protocols during the entire tattooing process to avoid occupational exposure to blood. If the equipment used to create tattoos is contaminated with infected blood, both, the customer and tattoo artists can contract various bloodborne diseases. Here are some key takeaways from this post.

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