If you go to a professional tattoo or piercing studio in Australia, your chances of getting hepatitis B or hepatitis C are almost nil. However, backyard tattoos and overseas shops could put you at risk.

Hepatitis B and C are blood-borne viruses, which means you can get them if your blood comes into contact with infected blood – even if it is only a microscopic (invisible) amount. If a tattoo or piercing shop uses proper sterilisation procedures, then there is no risk of blood-to-blood transmission.

In Australia, professional body artists follow very strict regulations. They should use a steriliser (preferably on-site), new sterile needles for every client and single-use ink pots and creams. Ask your body artist to describe their sterilisation procedures. If they can’t tell you, then you should go elsewhere. The Department of Health has some more information on choosing a good body art studio in Australia.

Many overseas locations do not have the same regulations as Australia. Even if they use new, sterile needles, the use of shared inkpots and creams can still transmit hepatitis.

Getting a tattoo or piercing done at home or at a party can seem fun and cheap, but it is near impossible to replicate the sterile environment of a professional tattoo shop. Tattoo artists are trained in sterilisation procedures as well as art, so if you want a tattoo of your friend’s artwork, ask them to draw you a stencil and have a professional ink it on your body.

What if I’ve already got a backyard or overseas tattoo?

If you’ve previously had a tattoo done outside of a professional Australian studio, talk to your doctor about getting a hepatitis test. A blood test will show whether you have hepatitis B or C, but you need to ask specifically for a hepatitis test.

Many people with hepatitis B or C do not show any symptoms for many years, but by then they may already have severe liver damage. Getting tested early gives you the best chance of preventing liver disease and liver cancer.

If you do have hepatitis, there are steps you can take to protect your liver. For hepatitis B, regular liver health checks and treatment as needed can protect against liver damage. For hepatitis C, there is a cure.

Find out more about hepatitis B

Find out more about hepatitis C

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Updated 11 August 2020