UC DAVIS (US)—Tattoing and piercing are more popular today than ever, particularly among young people, yet more than 40 percent of college students mistakenly believe that getting body art is unlikely to pose health risks.

Although the risk of hepatitis C and needle use has been well publicized, the potential for its spread through improper body art practices is far less known, particularly among young people who are most vulnerable, researchers from the University of California, Davis, and Sacramento State University have found.

The two universities have teamed up to address the lack of awareness with a nationwide multimedia campaign called “Be Smart with Body Art.”

The campaign aims to raise awareness that body art done improperly can lead to the spread of viral blood diseases such as hepatitis C, a disease that is only successfully treated in about 50 percent of cases. The campaign also arms young people with five questions to ask the artist before getting a tattoo or piercing.

“We want to give accurate information about safe tattooing that individuals can use themselves and share with others,” says Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, a faculty member with the UC Davis School of Medicine and Cancer Center. “The hepatitis C virus can lead to liver disease and liver cancer, and our goal is to prevent new infections by informing young adults of all the ways it can be transmitted.”

Professor Heather Diaz, a Sacramento State health sciences faculty member, says that the campaign does not intend to discourage tattooing and body piercing. “We just want people to be smart and safe about it,” she adds. “We hope to partner with many professional tattoo artists to help us spread the message to Be Smart with Body Art.”

“It’s long overdue,” says Mike Martin, a tattoo artist in San Diego and coordinator for health and education for the Alliance of Professional Tattooists. “We are professionals, we love our industry, and we want to take care of it.”

Citing inconsistent and often lax local health codes related to body art, Paul King from the Association of Professional Piercers—a California-based international organization that advocates for safe piercing—says: “Since there are no standardized statewide codes for body art practices at this time, it is imperative that this preventative health and safety information on hepatitis C is made available to young adults.”

University of California at Davis health news: www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/cancer