Commercially acquired tattoos as a potentially important source of hepatitis c infection
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Commercially Acquired Tattoos As a Potentially Important Source of Hepatitis C Infection . Robert W. Haley, M.D. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center R. Paul Fischer, M.D. Presbyterian Hospitals and Dallas Spine Group Dallas, Texas. Journal Reference. Haley RW, Fischer RP

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Commercially acquired tattoos as a potentially important source of hepatitis c infection

Commercially Acquired TattoosAs a Potentially Important Sourceof Hepatitis C Infection

Robert W. Haley, M.D.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

R. Paul Fischer, M.D.

Presbyterian Hospitals and Dallas Spine Group

Dallas, Texas

Journal reference
Journal Reference

  • Haley RW, Fischer RP

  • Commercial tattooing as a potentially important source of hepatitis C infection: clinical epidemiology of 626 consecutive patients unaware of their hepatitis C serologic status

  • Medicine

  • 2001; 80: 134-151.


  • To assess the relative importance of all known risk factors for HCV infection

  • To measure risk factors by a physician’s standardized interview in an office practice

  • To identify risk factors accounting for acquisition of all cases of HCV infection

Setting and subjects
Setting and Subjects

  • A private orthopedic clinic specializing in treatment of patients referred for spinal problems (10% workers comp)

  • Patients referred from TX, OK, AR and LA

  • 626 consecutive patients visiting the clinic during 18 months in 1991-1992

  • An internist interviewed all subjects for risk factors at the end of a routine history and physical examination

  • Informed consent and confidentiality assured

Physician s risk factor interview
Physician’s Risk Factor Interview

  • Interview followed a 25-item questionnaire.

  • Risk factors included all found in literature review of epidemiologic studies of HCV, HBV and HIV.

  • Before IDU questions, repeated confidentiality assurance and emphasized need for candor.

  • Tattoos directly observed, measured and described (size, artistic quality, colors).

  • Recorded risk factors before HCV serology results known.

Serologic testing
Serologic Testing

  • Tested 629 serum samples for HCV, HBV and HIV.

  • Screened all sera for HCV Ab with both first generation EIA-1 (Roche) and second generation EIA-2 (Abbott).

  • Confirmed all EIA-1 or EIA-2 positives by second generation 4-antigen RIBA-2 (Chiron).

    • Reactive: 2 or more bands scored as > 1+

    • Indeterminate: only 1 band scored as > 1+

    • Non-reactive: all bands either ± or 0

Serologic testing for hiv ab
Serologic Testing for HIV Ab

  • EIA screening by HIVAB HIV-1/HIV-2 (rDNA, Abbott Laboratories)

  • Positives confirmed by western blot testing using the NovapathTM HIV-1 test kit (Bio-Rad)

Statistical methods
Statistical Methods

  • Adjusted prevalence odds ratios obtained from logistic regression by exponentiating LR coeff.

  • Population attributable risk percentage (PARP, adjusted etiologic fraction, EF) calculated for each of rrisk factors (EFr) in a multivariate model (Bruzzi et al. Am J Epidemiol 1985; 122: 904)

  • Summary EF (% of all cases attributed to joint effects of all model risk factors) by same method

  • Note: sum of EFr‘s not equal the summary EF.

Statistical methods1
Statistical Methods

  • Estimated population prevalence rates by direct standardization to the age, sex, race, occupation distribution of the 1990 U.S. population.

  • U.S. population data obtained from 1990 census.

  • Occupation data from the 1990 U.S. civilian work force, U.S. Census Bureau

  • Used the inverse sampling probability estimates (Nj/nj) to weight the observations in each category.

Prevalence relative risk for hcv10

Prevalence Relative Risk for HCV

*33 patients reported acupuncture, 10 electrolysis, 53 bone graft.

Alcohol inhibits the cellular immune response to hcv
Alcohol Inhibits the Cellular Immune Response to HCV Analysis

  • In cross-over experiments in mice immunized with HCV core protein, chronic alcohol ingestion inhibited T-helper (Th) cell, cytotoxic lymphocyte responses and cytokine secretion, and altered normal proliferating Th1 cell subtype to Th0 subtype.

  • Corrected by removing the mice from alcohol but progressed in those continued on alcohol.

  • Alcohol suppresses cellular immune steps between sensitization and response (impaired clearance).

From Geissler et al. Hepatology 1997; 26: 764-770.

Clinical evidence for alcohol effects on hcv persistence
Clinical Evidence for Alcohol Effects on HCV Persistence Analysis

  • Heavy alcohol consumption increases HCV viral load in patients with chronic HCV infection.

  • Continued alcohol consumption during anti-viral therapy for HCV reduces the likelihood of sustained clearing of the virus.

Pessione et al. Hepatology 1998;27:1717-22.

Schiff. Hepatology 1997; 26 (Suppl): 39S-42S.

Nih american red cross study
NIH/American Red Cross Study* Analysis

  • HCV serology on 954,316 blood donors, 4,166 EIA+

  • All EIA+ invited to participate, only 481 (12%) did.

  • Subjects knew their RIBA status before volunteering.

  • Case-control study done in 248 RIBA+ vs 131 RIBA-.

  • RIBA- group had higher rate of college educated and repeat blood donors.

  • Interpretation: voluntary self-selection at a 12% rate attracted concerned RIBA+ subjects with more risk factors and altruistic RIBA- subjects with fewer risk factors. This may explain unusual associations. *Conry-Cantilena et al. NEJM 1996;334:1691

Incomplete disclosure of stigmatized behaviors such as idu
Incomplete Disclosure of Stigmatized Behaviors such as IDU Analysis

  • Common problem in survey research

  • The more uncomfortable, the more likely to answer with socially desirable responses.

  • It has been suggested that incomplete disclosure could inflate the association between HCV and other risk factors such as sexual promiscuity or tattooing.

The best way to handle incomplete disclosure is to prevent it
The Best Way to Handle Incomplete Disclosure Is To Prevent It.

  • Ensure confidentiality (and convince the subject).

  • Place sensitive questions late after rapport developed.

  • Preface sensitive questions with reassuring statements that lessen interviewer disapprobation.

  • Obtaining information in a physician’s office as part of a medical examination is more accurate than field interviews.

Can socially desirable responding inflate associations with other risk factors
Can Socially Desirable Responding Inflate Associations with Other Risk Factors?

  • Latkin et al. (Addiction 1993;88:517) measured Social Desirability Responding Tendency (SDRT) in a large population of IDU with known HIV serostatus.

  • SDRT scores were inversely associated with reported prevalence of stigmatized behaviors (needle-sharing).

  • But SDRT scores did not differ by HIV serostatus.

  • Thus, since a confounder must be associated with both the risk factor and the outcome, SDRT cannot confound other risk factor associations.

To be a confounder a variable c must be associated with both the risk factor a and the outcome b
To be a confounder, a variable (C) must be associated with both the risk factor (A) and the outcome (B).




Conclusions both the risk factor (A) and the outcome (B).

  • Repetitive IDU appears to be the most potent cause of chronic HCV infection.

  • HCV appears to be transmitted by commercial tattooing in Texas as in other countries. Undisclosed IDU does not account for this effect.

  • Working in a hospital appears to pose no excess risk of chronic HCV infection except possibly in male ancillary employees before OSHA regulations.

  • Heavy beer drinking may encourage persistence of HCV by suppressing immune response, or it may be a proxy for unmeasured blood exposures (e.g., brawling)

Conclusions both the risk factor (A) and the outcome (B).

  • If all four of these risk factors are causal, commercial tattooing may have produced more chronic HCV infections than IDU in Texas.

  • Even though transfusing HCV-contaminated blood can cause HCV infection, its contribution to the current high population prevalence of HCV infection in Texas is probably negligible.

  • Our finding adds weight to the strong argument against sexual transmission of HCV.

Conclusions both the risk factor (A) and the outcome (B).

  • In the 1980s and 1990s, tattooing dramatically increased in popularity.

  • By 1993, 16% of Texas high school students had tattoos, and 33% of the non-tattooed were considering getting one (J Sch Nurs 1994;10:26).

  • Although 30% of states have laws regulating tattooing, only Texas has appropriated funding for regular inspections of tattoo parlors.

  • Consumers getting tattoos assume tattooists are regulated and inspected, but no one is checking!

Advice on tattooing
Advice on Tattooing both the risk factor (A) and the outcome (B).

  • If you have a tattoo, get an HCV test.

  • If you are considering a tattoo, either don’t or get it done in a tattoo parlor that has been state-licensed and inspected in Texas.

Disagreement over role of tattooing
Disagreement over Role of Tattooing both the risk factor (A) and the outcome (B).

  • Seven Sentinel County Surveillance Study performs prospective surveillance of cases of acute hepatitis.

  • Commonly finds IDU, transfusions and promiscuous sexual activity in incubation period.

  • Rarely finds a tattooing experience in the incubation period.

  • Concluded that tattooing is not an important cause of HCV seropositivity.

Adjusted odds ratios for history of acute hepatitis and hcv seropositivity

Adjusted Odds Ratios* for History of Acute Hepatitis and HCV Seropositivity

*Addition risk factors adjusted for in the logistic regression model include: having worked in a hospital, number of sexual partners in peak year, and amount of alcohol consumed. Numbers are adjusted odds ratio with 95% confidence interval.

Hypothesized explanation
Hypothesized Explanation Seropositivity

  • HCV acute hepatitis is relatively rare and results from large intravenous doses of HCV virus from IDU and transfusions.

  • Tattooing transfers relatively small intradermal innocula of HCV virus and causes chronic HCV infection without acute hepatitis.

Conclusion Seropositivity

  • If this theory is true, surveillance of acute hepatitis cases may be systematically overlooking major modes of transmission of HCV infection that do not cause acute hepatitis.

  • CDC has recently added a new surveillance component to study risk factors in chronic occult HCV infection.