Bloodborne Pathogens: Risks Associated With Tattoos and Piercings

Bloodborne pathogens are disease caused by microorganisms found in the blood. There are different types or bloodborne pathogens causing different infections with the most common being Hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Others are malaria, brucellosis and syphilis among others

The different bloodborne pathogens are transmitted through contact with body fluids and blood. Infections occur when the individual is exposed to the blood or body fluid of an infected person. Among the most common modes of transmission include unhygienic tattooing and piercing procedures. Unlike in the past when tattoos and body piercings were regarded with skepticism, the attitude is constantly changing. Studies show that three in every ten Americans has tattoos. The tattooing process involves piercing of the skin with a sharp object and inking to create a permanent design. Some tattooists will use the same needle for different persons without giving much thought to the consequences. This sharing can lead to transfer of infectious diseases.  

Types of Bloodborne Pathogens:

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV):

HIV is a virus that is carried in blood and body fluids and it causes AIDs acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. The virus was first discovered in the early 80’s and has since infected millions of people and led to the death of many. The HIV virus attacks the healthy body cells that help in fighting infections also known as CD 4 cells. The virus multiplies as it attacks these cells. As it advances, the body become susceptible to illnesses, a condition referred to as AIDs. An individual is said to have AIDs when their body’s immune system is completely destroyed by the virus. Taking the HIV medicine daily suppresses the virus and prevents it’s progress.  A person is said to have 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. Taking HIV medicine is life saving even for persons at the late stages of the disease.

Apart from piercings and tattoos, the virus also spreads through unprotected sex with infected persons, blood transfusion, organ transplant and needles. The HIV virus 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 within the human body undetected until the late stages when the symptoms start to 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 preventive drug which is taken by healthy people to reduce their risk of infection if exposed to the virus. The drug prevents HIV infection by taking hold of the virus and preventing it’s ability to multiply. The drug 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 as soon as possible, and is most effective when taken within 3days of exposure to the virus. The drug should not be used for people who are regularly exposed to the virus. It can however be used by persons who have had unprotected sex with an infected person. Persons prescribed to take 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. When detected early, the disease can be controlled before it gets to the late stages. 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.


Hepatitis viruses affect the liver by causing inflammation. Some types of hepatitis can be transmitted through tattooing and piercings, and they include Hepatitis B and C. The liver is a critical organ in the body performing a set of functions including the production of bike, getting rid of toxins from the blood, regulating cholesterol, breaking down of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, storage of enzymes and production of clotting factors among others. There is hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, and autoimmune hepatitis. Studies show that 4.4 million Americans are currently living with hepatitis B and C viruses.  Both hepatitis B and C viruses are transmitted through contact with blood and body fluids.

Hepatitis B (HBV):

It is a very common illness, with majority of 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. Tattoos and body piercings can lead to transmission of HBV. The incubation period for the virus is one and half months to six months. On average, the disease takes four months to start showing symptoms. However, for most people the disease does not show any symptoms at this phase (acute stage).

The disease is preventable through vaccination, and most healthy people who get infected successfully clear the infection at the acute stage with full recovery. The victims who recover form the illness also acquire immunity towards the disease. For those whose immune system cannot fight the illness within six months, the disease persists in their system for a lifetime. The long-term illness is termed as chronic hepatitis B infection. The rate of recovery 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. 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.

HBV vaccine is very effective providing 99% protections against the infection. It is issued in three doses over a period of six months. The immunity acquired after vaccination lasts for over 20years. In America every child must receive the HBV vaccine immediately after birth. Persons at high risk of exposure such as tattooists and healthcare workers are required to get vaccinated. You can also take a blood test to find out 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. Just like hepatitis B virus, the hepatitis C virus has an incubation period of six months.  During this phase also known as the acute stage, the infected person does not show any symptoms. In other cases, the symptoms are too mild that they can be hardly felt. 40% of the people infected with HCV successfully clear the illness from their system. Chronic hepatitis C disease persists through the 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 into 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 a period of eight weeks.

The symptoms for hepatitis B and C are common, and they include jaundice, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea, abdominal pain, discolored urine and light-colored stool.

Bloodborne pathogens are transmitted during tattooing processes and piercings through:

  • Sharing of the equipment- infection can occur when the items used in these processes are used for multiple people without being sanitized. The viruses can stay on surfaces for periods ranging from hours to weeks. In sharing of piercing equipment, one infected person can infect as many people as those on whom the item is used.
  • Open skin (wounds, cuts and piercings)- tattooists and persons are at a risk of infection if they have open skin on the hands. They can also accidentally pierce themselves using the same equipment getting infected. It is advisable for these people to always 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 blood and body fluids.

Some bloodborne pathogens have no known cure and people can’t be vaccinated against. It is, therefore, critical for tattooists to exercise maximum precautions to protect themselves and their clients against the possible exposure. Bloodborne pathogens training provides the necessary skills and knowledge to prevent people from the deadly virus and bacterias. People like healthcare professionals working in high-risk environment should enroll for online bloodborne pathogen certification programs from certified institutions. These programs are readily available and easily accessible to interested persons at affordable rates. There are no minimum qualifications for bloodborne pathogens certification 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.

 Enroll Now for Online Blood Pathogen Certification Classes at just $19.95.