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Body percing study provides reminder of potential health risks

A study published today on highlights the need for people to be aware of the possible health risks associated with body piercing.

The study, carried out by experts at the Health Protection Agency and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, looked at the prevalence of cosmetic body piercing, excluding pierced earlobes.

It found that more than a quarter (28%) of all people experience complications as a result of their piercing. Although most problems associated with piercing are usually minor and self-limiting, such as swelling, infection and bleeding after the procedure, some complications are more serious. Around half of those who experience complications consider them serious enough to seek professional help, most often from pharmacists, piercers or GPs.

Serious complications that result in a hospital admission are more likely to occur with piercings performed by a "nonspecialist" than with those performed by someone at a specialist piercing or tattooing shop. Despite this, 10% of people are having their piercings done by "nonspecialists" including the person themselves or by a friend or relative. This includes tongue and genital piercings.

Dr Fortune Ncube, study author from the Health Protection Agency, said: "If piercing remains fashionable, almost half the female population might eventually have a piercing somewhere other than their earlobes. If this trend continues, to avoid complications and the burden on health services that these could bring, it is vital to continue raising awareness among piercers, their clients and health professionals about the importance of good hygiene and public health safety."

Although there have been no reported cases of contracting a blood borne virus such as hepatitis B and C or HIV, through body piercing in the UK, this has been seen in other parts of the world and the study authors report that this remains a cause for concern.

Health Protection Agency