Area universities pull together for hepatitis C awareness campaign

Click on photo to view Be Smart With Body Art video
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More than 40 percent of college students falsely believe that tattooing and body piercing are unlikely to pose health risks, researchers from UC Davis and Sacramento State University have found.

The two universities have teamed up to address the lack of awareness with an innovative new multimedia campaign that educates young people about ways to prevent spread of viral hepatitis C when getting tattoos or piercings.

Be Smart with Body Art is a project of the UC Davis Cancer Center-Sacramento State University Partnership, in association with young adult cancer survivors and tattoo and piercing professionals. The campaign launched in December aims to raise awareness that body art done improperly can lead to the spread of viral blood diseases such as hepatitis C, a disease that is only successfully treated in about 50 percent of cases. And it will arm young people with questions to ask the artist before getting a tattoo or piercing.

“We want to give accurate information about safe tattooing that individuals can use themselves and share with others,” said Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, a faculty member with the UC Davis School of Medicine and Cancer Center. “The hepatitis C virus can lead to liver disease and liver cancer, and our goal is to prevent new infections by informing young adults of all the ways it can be transmitted.”

Professor Heather Diaz, a Sacramento State health sciences faculty member, added that the campaign does not intend to discourage tattooing and body piercing. “We just want people to be smart and safe about it,” she said. “We hope to partner with many professional tattoo artists to help us spread the message to Be Smart with Body Art.”

Dr. von Friederich-Fitzwater  © UC Regents“We want to give accurate information about safe tattooing that individuals can use themselves and share with others.”
— Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater

Ask 5 important questions

Diaz and Friederichs-Fitzwater want students to ask five important questions of a tattoo artist before getting a tattoo:

• Do you use only new needles?
• Do you use new ink caps for each client?
• Do you sterilize all equipment that may come in contact with blood?
• Do you wear single-use latex gloves?
• Do you cover fresh tattoos to prevent infection or hepatitis C virus transmission?

The Be Smart with Body Art campaign already has been endorsed by two major industry associations.

“It’s long overdue,” said Mike Martin, a tattoo artist in San Diego and coordinator for health and education for the Alliance of Professional Tattooists. “We are professionals, we love our industry, and we want to take care of it.”

The Association of Professional Piercers, a California-based international organization that advocates for safe piercing, also backs the campaign. Citing inconsistent and often lax local health codes related to body art, the group’s treasurer, Paul King, said, “since there are no standardized statewide codes for body art practices at this time, it is imperative that this preventative health and safety information on hepatitis C is made available to young adults.”

Diaz and Friederichs-Fitzwater say they plan to take the program to other campuses throughout the state and, eventually, the rest of the country.

The campaign will feature campus activities, community events, radio spots and postings on Facebook, Twitter and My Space. Additional information on the campaign is available at www.besmartwithbodyart.org.

Tattoo on male college student forearm
Be Smart with Body Art is a project of the UC Davis Cancer Center-Sacramento State University Partnership, in association with young adult cancer survivors and tattoo and piercing professionals. The project aims to raise awareness that body art done improperly can lead to the spread of viral blood diseases.

About UC Davis Cancer Center
UC Davis Cancer Center cares for 9,000 adults and children each year from throughout the Central Valley and inland Northern California. The center is dedicated to reducing cancer health disparities, enriching the lives of patients and their families, and supporting community members interested in learning more about cancer risks, prevention, early detection and research. For more information, visit www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/cancer. Also, visit us on Facebook.

About Sacramento State University
Sacramento State is making a difference in California’s Capital Region and beyond. We offer a life-changing opportunity for our 29,000 students, preparing them to be leaders in their fields and communities. Our professors are known for their dedication to great teaching. And our location in the capital of the nation’s largest state government allows students to pursue unique internships and research. For more information, visit us at www.csus.edu.

About the UC Davis Cancer Center/Sacramento State Partnership
Formed in 2005, the partnership aims to reduce cancer health disparities through education, research and training. The model partnership unites physicians and scientists from UC Davis through the UC Davis Cancer Center with Sacramento State's College of Health and Human Services to collaborate on initiatives to strengthen cancer outreach, prevention and control.