Tattooing & Infectious Diseases: Quick Guide

Tattooing is in the top 8 industries where Bloodborne Pathogens Training is compulsory.

If you are a tattoo artist, piercing artist or other body modification artist, the OSHA CFR 1910.1030 Bloodborne Pathogens Standard stipulates that you need to know about the dangers of bloodborne pathogens and other communicable diseases in your workplace.

Depending on your US State, there will be different licensing requirements, but all US States require the Bloodborne Pathogens standard element of the training to be completed as this is part of federal law.

For a detailed look at what must be covered in a Bloodborne Pathogens certification for tattoo artist check out this article.

Today we will be taking a closer look at other potentially communicable diseases that can result from the tattooing or body art procedure.

Common Bloodborne Pathogens in a Tattoo Studio

First of all, there is some good news – two major properties inherent in the HIV virus itself help to minimize the possibility of transmission via tattoo needles.

This is because the virus dies quickly once outside of its living host and in the open air.

Unlike other pathogens, the HIV virus can’t reproduce outside its host, this means that in any contaminated blood that leaves the body and mixes with air, ink, soaps and other matter, the HIV virus begins to die almost immediately.

Tattoo needles are made with a solid core that pushes the ink into the skin rather than injects it. 

This means that the ink and any contaminated blood mixed with it must adhere to the outside surface of the pins, causing the virus to come into contact with the open air.

Other Communicable Diseases

As well as HBV, HCV, and HIV, which are the most common and prevalent Bloodborne diseases, there are multiple other types of communicable diseases that as a body art professional, you should be aware of.

Hepatitis A

A contagious liver disease. Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The virus is primarily spread when an uninfected (and unvaccinated) person ingests food or water that is contaminated with the feces of an infected person. 

Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A does not cause chronic liver disease and is rarely fatal, but it can cause debilitating symptoms and fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure), which is often fatal. Overall, WHO estimated that in 2016, 7 134 persons died from hepatitis A worldwide (accounting for 0.5% of the mortality due to viral hepatitis).

Hepatitis A

Staphylococcus Aureus Infection

A bacterium commonly found on the skin and in the nose of about 30% of people, most of the time it does not cause any harm, but it’s the leading cause of skin and soft tissue infections.



Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics such as penicillin and amoxicillin.



This is caused by Staph, or Strep (streptococcus) bacteria that usually results in inflammation and infection.


Tuberculosis (TB)

TB is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis and usually attacks the lungs. TB related diseases can be fatal.



Scabies is an easily spreadable skin disease caused by a species of very small mite (Sarcoptes scabiei).



Ringworm is a fungal infection that can spread easily from one person to another via skin contact, or contact with contaminated items such as combs, brushes and furniture.


Molluscum Contagiosum

A benign superficial skin disease that is caused by a poxvirus. The virus only affects the outer skin layer and does not circulate throughout the body in healthy people.

Molloscum Contagium

Herpes Simplex

An infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Transmission is usually by direct contact with secretions of sores or saliva of an infected person.

Herpes Simplex


Herpes Zoster – This is a painful, blistering skin rash caused by the variceal-zoster virus.


Piercing Specific Medical Issues

There are several piercing specific medical issues that can occur.

These include:


There is always a risk of bleeding, for instance, damage to the tongue’s blood vessels can cause serious blood loss. This can lead to fainting and shock.


Swelling is also common after an oral piercing, which may lead to problems with airway blocking in extreme cases.


Oral piercing also carries a risk of endocarditis, which is a serious inflammation of the heart valve or surrounding tissues. When this happens, the wound created by the piercing allows oral bacteria to enter the bloodstream, where they can travel to the heart. This presents a risk to people with cardiac abnormalities.

Damage to Teeth and Gums

Damage to teeth and gums can also be caused in the longer term due to poorly placed piercings creating gum recession or chips and cracks on the teeth.

Nerve Damage

Nerve damage can occur if a nerve is pierced in the process of an eyebrow or nasal bridge piercing.

Tatoo Specific Medical Issues

Tattoo specific medical issues can sometimes be a bit more serious – they include:

General Skin Infections

Redness, pain, and swelling are fairly common when larger tattoos are created in a single session. These type of infections may require antibiotics.

Allergic Reaction

Allergic reaction to foreign materials is always a danger when tattooing, this includes metal and inks and can occur even years after a tattoo is applied.

Keloid Scarring

Keloid scarring around bumps caused by tattoo ink, particularly red ink.

Gangrene Risk for Clients with Diabetes

There is also a specific risk you need to be aware of for diabetics, where an infection can result in a gangrene infection.


Tattoo and body artists are at increased risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens and other potentially infectious materials.

It’s essential that artists take an OSHA bloodborne pathogens certification for tattoo artists course.

More information on state specific requirements and how to get a tattoo license in the USA in 2023.

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