Objective: Many reports cite tattoo application as an independent risk factor for viral hepatitis. The purpose of this study was to determine whether patients with tattoos are at increased risk for chronic viral hepatitis.
Methods: A total of 212 patients, aged 18-55 yr, who presented to the emergency center and outpatient clinic at a suburban tertiary care hospital participated in the study. Of these, 106 had tattoos and 106 did not. No patient had known liver disease or viral hepatitis. Hepatitis B DNA, hepatitis C RNA, and hepatitis G RNA were measured in the serum using the polymerase chain reaction on stored serum samples. Each participant completed an anonymous questionnaire concerning risk factors for viral hepatitis.
Results: Patients with tattoos did not have a higher rate of chronic hepatitis B, C, or G than did a gender-matched group without tattoos. One (0.9%), seven (6.6%), and three patients (2.8%) in the tattoo group were positive for hepatitis B DNA, hepatitis C RNA, and hepatitis G RNA, respectively. Among controls, no patients (0%), three (2.8%), and six (5.6%) patients were positive for hepatitis B DNA, hepatitis C RNA and hepatitis G RNA, respectively (p = 0.815). All infected patients except one in each group reported a risk factor for viral hepatitis. Individuals with tattoos were more likely to have body piercing (p = 0.049; CI = 1.000-1.995), and more than five sexual partners (p = 0.013; CI = 1.073-1.846) than the control group.
Conclusion: We find no evidence to support the observation that tattoos serve as a risk factor for chronic viral hepatitis.