Can I get AIDS from tattooing?



This section refers to tattooing specifically, and not to other forms of bodyart. Some, such as piercing and cutting, require the breaking of the client’s skin to a deeper level than what is achieved with a modern tattoo machine.

This section on AIDS & Tattooing has been contributed by Nick “Buccaneer” Baban , who studied at the Univ. of Michigan School of Public Health, Dept. of Epidemiology. He spent the summer researching AIDS and IV drug use in NYC. “I’m not an expert, but I consider myself knowledgable. Any furthur questions about AIDS can be e-mailed to me.”


Obviously there is some concern about AIDS and tattooing because when you get a tattoo, you bleed. But the mechanism of transmission needs to be better understood.

AIDS is transmitted by intimate contact with bodily fluids, blood and semen being the most comon. Intimate contact means that the fluid carrying the AIDS virus (HIV) enters into your system.

Injection drug users (IDUs) use hollow medical syringes and needles to inject drugs directly into their bloodstream. It is common practice to withdraw a little blood back into the syringe to delay the onset of the high. When needles are passed from IDU to IDU and reused without sterilization, some of that blood remains in the syringe and is passed on to the next user. If infected blood is passed, the recipient can become infected with HIV, which leads to AIDS.

Tattooing is VERY different from injecting drugs. The needles used in tattooing are not hollow. They do, however, travel back and forth through a hollow tube that acts as an ink reservoir. The tip of the tube is dipped into the ink, which draws a little into the tube. As the needle withdraws into the tube, it gets coated with ink. When it comes forward, it pierces your skin and deposits the ink. You then bleed a little through the needle hole. This happens several hundred times a second.

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