The Tattoo Shop in Niles and Bloodborne Pathogens

Recently a Tattoo Shop in Niles was closed for OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Violations. The health officers alleged that the famous Tattoo & Piercing hub has been engaging in “unsafe and unsanitary practices” as regards to the sharps they use on customers.

Here’s how the story appeared on ABC News on Mar 3, 2020.

The Berrien County Health Department said Tuesday that it has identified “unsafe and unsanitary” piercing practices at Paparazzi Tattoo & Body Piercing in Niles.

The practices may have exposed former customers to the blood of other customers, the health department said.

As a precaution, the health department is asking that customers who have ever received body piercings at the shop to undergo blood tests for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.

According to the health department, individuals who received piercings of their belly button, tongue, nipples, genitals, and/ or other surface or dermal piercings may be at increased risk for possible exposure to bloodborne pathogens due to the improper sterilization of metal forceps used for those procedures.

The health department said the tools at the Paparazzi Tattoo Shop in Niles were going through a sanitation process but not a sterilization process.

Customers who received ear and nose piercings exclusively are not at risk and are not recommended for blood testing, the health department said. 

The investigation began after a community member filed a complaint about the practices with the health department.

To date, the health department has not identified any cases of hepatitis C, hepatitis B, or HIV associated with the practices at Paparazzi Tattoo & Body Piercing.

The health department is working to notify customers who are potentially impacted, but former customers may contact the Berrien County Health Department for information on how to get tested.

A “licensed suspended” sign could be seen posted on the door of the tattoo and piercing shop on Tuesday.

The Paparazzi Tattoo Shop in Niles was ordered to close until they come into compliance, so there is a chance for the business to reopen and move forward. 

The health department did add that the tattoo portion of the business is in full compliance.

So what’s the whole idea of blood and diseases spreading from one person to another? 

Bloodborne pathogens are disease-causing microorganisms that can transmit from an infected person to another through the exchange of blood or other bodily fluids.

When a person is bleeding or blood spills, fear often takes over bystanders because blood is linked to infections. And since our eyes can’t see whether one’s blood is infected or not, it is advisable to take maximum precaution always.

Blood is the fluid (in humans) that transports oxygen and nutrients to the cells and carries away carbon dioxide and other waste products. The heart pumps blood to all parts of the body, after which it travels back to the heart to repeat the process. 

Blood is considered both a tissue and a fluid. It qualifies as a tissue because it is a collection of similar “specialized” cells that serve a particular function. 

Blood cells are suspended in a fluid called plasma, which makes the blood liquid. Lack of blood in someone’s body will cause death within minutes due to the effect of unfavorable conditions on susceptible cells.

We all fear blood spills, and that is okay because a person’s blood may be infected in one way or another.

True! The human blood may carry disease-causing microorganisms known as bloodborne pathogens (BPP).

These could either be bacteria or viruses contracted elsewhere or passed on through blood and body fluids—since infections in the blood can spread to body fluids such as semen, breast milk, etc.

Understanding Exposure to BPPs

One can get exposed to bloodborne pathogens in three different ways:

  • Direct exposure. Direct transmission happens when the infected blood and bodily material from one person enter another person’s body. E.g., through a splash to the eye.
  • Indirect exposure. Happens when a healthy person touches (or comes into contact with an object that has been infected. (Like in the case at the Tattoo shop in Niles where clients were at the risk of getting infections from the piercing tools)
  • Respiratory-droplet exposure. This happens when an infected person coughs, releasing drops that are breathed in by others. 

That said, let’s break down the risk of exposure further to understand the real risk profile of bloodborne pathogens

Dangers of Exposure at Work.

Injuries can occur anywhere, but many instances of bloody wounds exposing others to diseases happen at work. 

Sharps and Needlesticks are known transmitters of bloodborne diseases among workers. These are the sharps and needles nurses use to assist their patients. A nurse at work can accidentally get a cut from an infected sharp object— and many times, these incidents lead to an infection.

Another way bloodborne pathogens can spread to a nurse or any other person is through a splash of blood that goes to the eye when trying to do first aid on a victim.

In other workplaces, falling objects and different types of injuries can lead to spilled blood. In these instances, an employee may also get infected when trying to assist a victim.

The universal rule for blood states that all human blood, bodily fluids, and other potentially infectious materials should be treated as though they are contagious. It is difficult to determine the kinds of in any blood sample by just looking at it. 

Tattoo artists, house cleaners, doctors, and prison healthcare providers are also at a high risk of BPP infections because of the nature of their jobs. That means the artists at The Tattoo Shop in Niles were risking their lives with their unsafe and unsanitary practices.

Risk of Exposure Away from Work.

Back to the Tattoo Shop in Niles where health officers found poor sharp sterilization practices. The sad report even recommended HIV and Hep B tests for all locals who visited the shop at one time or another.

So you could get exposed unknowingly, and such cases are worse because you may only learn about it later— like our friends from Niles.

Other exposure risks away from work

  • A splash to the eye when performing first aid on a victim may be the cause of exposure.
  • Rare cases of unscreened blood transfusions can also spread the disease-causing pathogens in blood.
  • Sharing needles, for example, among addicts who use injection drugs can also lead to the spread of infection. 
  • Attacks such as bites and stabs could also expose one to bloodborne pathogens.

Sometimes the infection spreads from the blood to other body fluids. So one may also contact BPPs through bodily fluids. Such cases may include

  • Mother to infant transmission during delivery or breastfeeding.
  • Unprotected sexual intercourse, or sex without a condom
  • Touching an infected person’s body fluids and rubbing your eyes, ears, nose mouth

As you can see, the risk profile is high, but nothing you cannot prevent or take care of— if you are quick to suspect an infection and swifter to seek treatment.

The case in the Tattoo shop in Niles is different because most victims are realizing months or even years later. Still, medical care can be provided to manage situations like HIV. 

But that should be a wake-up call that: your bloodborne safety is YOUR OWN responsibility!

How can you protect yourself?

If the piercing enthusiasts at the Tatoo shop in Niles understood the risk of exposure to BPPs, maybe they would have been keener on their service provider’s practices.

If you think the Tattoo shop in Niles is the only case of negligence, then you’re dead wrong! Not all service providers who use sharps or needles on you follow OSHA bloodborne pathogen safety practices

Bloodborne pathogen safety starts from being as canning as insisting on the use of sanitized/sterilized or NEW equipment all the time. 

Do this for your tattooist or doctor— or anyone else who uses publicly shared sharps on you during a service.

Be ready to pay extra if it means staying safe. After all, protection or prevention is better than cure.

Luckily, there are many ways to reduce the chances of getting exposed to blood and body fluid pathogens. 

  • Have strict no dithering policy on sharing sharps or needles with strangers
  • Go for the Hep B vaccine. It’s true; healthcare centers have an effective vaccine for Hepatitis B. 
  • Always use personal protective gear such as goggles, gloves every time blood spills occur, or you’re at the danger of getting exposed. 
  • Go through and familiarize yourself with your company’s Exposure Control Plan, especially if accidents are common in your workplace. An exposure plan prepares you for what to do if you get exposed at work.
  • Practice safe disposal of needles. Don’t put others at risk— protect even those who collect wastes from your home by keeping needle wastes in a disposal container.
  • Go for needles and sharps built with safety in mind 

Other ways to stay safe may involve engaging in protected sex to prevent the exchange of body fluids. If detected early, mother-to-child delivery or breastfeeding transmission can also be prevented with expert assistance.

Follow these best practices every time to reduce the chances of contracting BPPs—some which are chronic and incurable.

What If You Get Exposed?

As pointed out throughout this post, it is impossible to tell whether a blood spill or sample is infected or not. 

The following are red signs you could have been exposed;

  • Sharps and Needlesticks (or injuries from needles) are known to transmit bloodborne diseases 
  • A splash to the eye when performing first aid on a victim may be the cause of exposure. These cases may happen at work or anywhere else.
  • Rare cases of unscreened blood transfusions can also spread the disease-causing pathogens in blood.
  • Sharing needles, for example, among addicts who use injection drugs can also lead to the spread of infections. 
  • Touching an infected person’s body fluids and rubbing your eyes, ears, nose, or mouth.
  • Attacks such as bites and stabs could also expose one to bloodborne pathogens.

If you suspect exposure, act swiftly to reduce the chances of contracting an infection. Generally, any contact with blood should be treated as possible exposure. And what should follow is a 4 step procedure. 

Clean with water and soap.

Wash the affected area with water and soap. Whether it is a scratch, cut, or needlestick, washing with water immediately can help reduce transmission. 

The “affected area” refers to the part suspected to have come in contact with foreign blood or fluid.

2. Run plenty of water on the area.

A splash to the face could risk entry through areas like the mouth, eyes, or nose. In case of such splashes, run plenty of water to clean thoroughly.

The face-splash is a risky one because the mucous membranes in these body parts can allow the entry of viruses and bacteria into the body. 

Add some soap and wash gently, but with plenty of clean water. Close your mouth and eyes; try not to let water in through your nose as you wash.

3. Report the Incident.

Where you report your incident will depend on whether you’ve been exposed at work or in a public setting.

  • If you suspect exposure at work.

Report the incident to the supervisor in charge of workers. You want to report this incident and have it recorded immediately it happens. Explain why you suspect you’ve been exposed so that it goes to record. Because you’ll need those records if you are going to have your employer pay for all hospital and related costs.

As a rule of thumb, any injury at work tied to contact with foreign blood should be reported alongside a “possible exposure note.”

  • If you suspect exposure at a public venue

If for some reason you touch blood, suffer a splash, needlestick, cut scratch or any other possible exposures to blood & bodily fluids in a public setting, your first move to file a complaint or inform the management about the incident.

It is important to do that before you leave the area so that they are held accountable in case tests confirm any form of infection.  

4. Get Medical Help.

Of course, you want to seek medical assistance as soon as possible to check for any infections.

So after recording your case with the responsible authorities, a health facility should be your next stop.

Your physician should run tests to detect any signs of infection. Early detection (and intervention) is important in ensuring controlling and treating most of these infections.

What are Some Bloodborne Pathogens to Watch Out For?

After the health officers cracked down on the Tattoo Shop in Niles and found in non-compliant, it recommended HIV and Hep B tests for all locals who visited the shop at one time or another. But with the many disease-causing pathogens that transmit through blood and body fluids, we can rule out other possibilities.

So what are these two infections, and why should you watch out for them? 

BPPs are infectious microorganisms found in human blood that can lead to diseases in humans. Some of the infections that can spread through pathogens include human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Hepatitis b (HBV), and Hepatitis c (HCV).

1. HBV.

Hepatitis is the term used to refer to the inflammation of the liver. It is caused by many factors which include: virus, drugs virus, and other infectious agents. 

The hepatitis B virus causes hepatitis B. The resulting disease can harmful and deadly if not dealt with early. Luckily we already have a vaccine for Hep B.

While the most common transmission mode for HBV is through mother-to-child transfer during birth, it can also spread in many other ways. This type of transmission is referred to as perinatal transmission. 

Again it can spread from one child to another through exposure to blood—as typical in the first five years of growth. This form of transmission is also called horizontal transfer. Such HBV infections can quickly escalate to chronic ailments in young ones under the age of 5. 

HBV can also transmit or spread in many other ways, including tattooing, needlesticks, or even exposure to infected body fluids. Bodily fluids here refer to saliva, vaginal, seminal, or even menstrual fluids. That explains why many HBV infections happen through sexual contact.

Bloodborne pathogens can pose a threat to anyone who gets in contact with blood and other body fluids contaminated with such viruses and bacteria. 

Because it is human instinct to want to help a person in pain, especially one who is bleeding out, it is important to understand the risks involved.

2.Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV).

This is a virus that affects the immune system in the human body. In normal circumstances, the immune system in our bodies helps it fight infections. 

Left uncontrolled, HIV can kill immune cells—normally called the T cells. The most affected cells are the CD4 cells, and a reduction in the count can make the body susceptible to many other infections.

Failure to intervene can result in a more serious medical condition known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). When the HIV infection reaches the AIDS stage, the body becomes frail and unable to fight infections or diseases.

Sometime back, AIDS became critical that if one went untreated for three years, death was imminent. Medical practitioners, however, advanced their technology and developed ways to deal with this situation through antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs. And now, people living with HIV can enjoy a longer life.

It is possible to can contact this condition because it spreads mainly through the fluids in the body.

Fluids that act as the mode of transmission include unscreened blood, semen, and vaginal fluids or breast milk.

  • HIV spreads mainly via unprotected sexual contact. The sharing of injection equipment among drug and poor sterilization of sharps can also spread the infection.
  • Another common mode of transmission is through breastfeeding. An infected mother can pass the virus to a baby through milk or during childbirth. 
  • Blood transfusion can also lead to the spread of HIV infection. And sometimes, an organ transplant can lead to HIV— though these cases are rare.

However, people should note that when a person is infected by HIV and is under treatment, they may have an undetectable viral load. In this case, HIV transmission is very low.

3. HCV.

The Hepatitis C Virus causes hepatitis C. Hep C is most commonly transmitted through repeated direct exposure to contaminated blood. Still, the medical world is searching for a Hep C vaccine.

Since this type of condition is bloodborne, it can be transmitted in many different ways. 

One way is by sharing infected equipment used to inject drugs. Other modes include; unscreened blood transfusion, sexual contact, and also through medical equipment that are not well sterilized.

Hepatitis C virus can also pass on from mother to baby, but studies show that this type of transmission is uncommon.

Stay cautious 

If you think the Tattoo shop in Niles is the only case of negligence, then you’re dead wrong! Not all service providers who use sharps or needles on you follow OSHA bloodborne pathogen safety practices. 

And many of these cases remain unrevealed for a long time until a whistleblower appears. Many times, the damage done is significant, by the time the news hit the headlines. 

That explains why you must be choosey when it comes to body piercing and tattoo facilities, or any other service that involves sharp objects (or could expose you to infections).

Follow these best practices all the time to reduce the chances of contracting diseases—some which are chronic and incurable.

Lastly, train your friends and family on BPP safety and how to protect themselves.