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Tattoos in HIV-infected persons: new insights into an old art.


Int Conf AIDS. 1996 Jul 7-12;11(1):379 (abstract no. Tu.C.2662). Unique

Objective: To study the epidemiology of tattoos in persons with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, assess the patient's awareness of health risk and evaluate the health care worker's interest in the tattoo. Methods: A descriptive epidemiologic study based on a personal interview, a standardized questionnaire administered in an HIV outpatient clinic, and medical chart review. Results: Over a four month period, 73 tattoos were studied in 29 HIV-infected patients: 69% were male, 45% were nonwhite, and 79% were prior or active injection drug users. Patients obtained their first tattoo at a mean age of 17 years; 96% reported no knowledge of health risks associated with tattooing, 48% regretted having the tattoo, and 31% wanted the tattoo removed. Tattoos were applied for a variety of reasons, usually for cosmetic purposes (31%), commitment to another person 28%), or as a personal symbol (18%). Of the 73 experiences, 44% involved the use of illicit drugs or alcohol, and 77% were performed illegally, 25% of which occurred in prison. Although tattoos often provide important psychosocial insights into the patient, only 14% of the patients stated their primary care physician had discussed or acknowledged their tattoo, and only 2 9%) of the 22 medical records that had a comprehensive history and physical exam noted the presence of the tattoo. Conclusions: Tattoos in our HIV-infected patients were commonly obtained during adolescence for a variety of reasons and were often regretted later. Tattoos were usually obtained illegally and frequently under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs. Although the history of the tattoo, and its method of placement, may provide important psychosocial insights, health care providers often do not discuss the tattoo with the patient or document it in the medical record.

*HIV Infections/PSYCHOLOGY *Tattooing


Information in this article was accurate in January 30, 1997. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.