YOUNG people who tattoo themselves with home kits purchased on the Internet risk contracting the potentially debilitating hepatitis C.
Two hep C experts visiting the North Coast this week yesterday told The Northern Star the latest surge in the number of people with the disease were young people tattooing themselves and their friends.
The kits can cost as little as $80, but a lack of hygiene meant potential infections; those infected would pay a higher price - possibly for the rest of their lives.
Harpreet Kalsi, a trainer with the Hepatitis C Council of NSW, said there were many myths about how hep C is contracted that led to discrimination against those infected.
“It's transmitted through sharing intravenous needles, but also unsafe tattooing and piercing,” she said.
The rate of hep C infection in Australia, which is transmitted via blood, is highest on the North Coast and is the leading cause of liver transplants.
The good news is it's treatable, and between 50pc to 85pc of cases the virus can be eradicated.
“There is no vaccine for it, and the rate of infection is much higher than HIV and second only to chlamydia,” another hep C educator, Leon Fernandes, said.
Clinical nurse consultant at Lismore's Liver Clinic, Wendy Evans, said people could be infected for 20 years without knowing they were carrying the disease.
“Sometimes, when someone is young, they can have one drug experience and not think about it until much later in life when they disease starts to show itself,” she said.
Ms Evans said with the increase in health tourism, people should also be aware of lax hygiene standards in overseas hospitals.
• North Coast has the highest rate of hep C infection in Australia.
• More than 200,000 Australians have hep C, but fewer than 2pc receive treatment.
• 10,000 Australian are expected to become infected this year.
• Most young people don't know hep C is a blood-borne disease.