It was summer, and I was on a road trip. I wasn’t there for my best friend’s birthday, so I called.
“Hey Mike, it’s Laura!”
“What’s up? Happy Birthday! Doing anything fun?”
“Yeah, Chase and me and some other buds are just sitting in Parc Lafontaine, and Chase is giving me a stick and poke.”
“Oh sweet. What of?”
“Oh you know, just a piece of pizza”.
I laughed, because, well, pizza.
For the unenlightened, a stick and poke is a tattoo done with just a tattoo needle and some India ink. You dip the needle in the ink and proceed to “poke” yourself to inject the ink into the skin.
Throughout human history, people have been emblazoning their bodies with beautiful symbols, patterns, and pictures – like flowers, past lovers, cats and… pizza. But there are risks – besides some bad artwork – including infection and even hepatitis C.
Just in case you’re unclear about Hepatitis C, it is a virus that affects the liver. Some people flush it out, whereas for some people “hepatitis C can lead to liver damage, as it causes swelling (inflammation). This swelling causes scarring (fibrosis) of the liver, which affects how the organ functions. Liver scarring can worsen (called cirrhosis). This increases your chances of getting liver cancer.” (healthycanadians.gc.ca)
You can get Hepatitis C through blood contact. Even the tiniest, unseen drop can contain the virus, so naturally using sterile tattoo equipment is of paramount importance. And if you still prefer Chase to a professional tattoo parlour? Your body – your choice. Here are a few ways to guarantee you stay Hep C free:
Always, always use new needles. Tattoo needles have been sterilized in an autoclave, which heats the metal to a certain temperature for a certain amount of time to sterilize it. These needles are therefore ready to use, fresh out of the package. You can usually buy them at a tattoo shop, or order them online.
Never use someone else’s needle or share your needle with others.
Don’t reuse your needles. The Hepatitis C virus is still alive on a needle for 63 days after use (hepatitiscentral.com), so don’t risk it.
Don’t double dip: do not share ink with anybody, and don’t use any ink that has previously been used by another person. Put your ink into a receptacle such as a clean bottle cap, and discard immediately after use.
It is worth noting that the same rules apply for tattoo guns or even a tattoo parlour. Choose clean and new needles, and/or make sure the parlour follows safe practices.
You should still get tested. During an STI screening you can ask to be tested for Hepatitis C, and if you cite your DIY tats as a reason, they’ll do it immediately. This is not a prevention method, but if you have picked up the virus, early treatment is important for avoiding the nasty consequences.
Doing your own tattoos, or having a friend do them, can be pretty empowering – inexpensive, unique, spontaneous and memory-making. I know. But just remember to tell Chase you want it Hep C-free.
Your body — your pizza.
World Hepatitis Day is July 28. For information about events in your community: www.whdcanada.org.