Exposure to hepatitis B and C of tattooists in Victoria in 1984


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Abstract

SUMMARY.Although tattooing is recognized as a risk factor for transmission of hepatitis C, the efficiency with which transmission occurs is unknown. Sera stored from a serosurvey of tattooists undertaken in 1984 to test for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) provided the opportunity to determine the prevalence of serological markers of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) in tattooists at that time. The stored sera had been obtained from five unregistered and 36 of 37 (97%) of the registered tattooists operating in 1984. Serological status for hepatitis B (hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), antibody to hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAb) and antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAb) in standard assays) or hepatitis C (HCV antibody reactivity in second and third generation tests, confirmed by recombinant immunoblot assay) was determined. No sera was HIV positive or HBsAg positive. Of 35 specimens tested for HCV specific antibody, only two(5.6%) were positive despite markers of HBV in 48.6% of the same sera. As acute HBV infection was common amongst tattooists prior to 1984, it is clear that hepatitis B vaccination would be of benefit to this group. Despite frequent needlestick injuries reported by tattooists at the time, the low seroprevalence of HCV in this group suggests that HCV may not be transmitted efficiently by intradermal inoculation using solid-bore tattooing needles.

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