By the mid 1990s, according to U.S. News & World Report, tattooing had become one of America's fastest growing categories of retail business. There were now an estimated 15,000 tattoo studios in operation as the once-taboo practice of body-marking continued to gain broader acceptance and popularity throughout mainstream society.
As part of this cultural change, growing numbers of professional tattoo artists are opening -- and attempting to open -- studios in middle-class cities and towns that have never had such establishments in their business districts.
Inaccurate Risk Allegations
Letters to the editor in some publications have often flatly stated that tattoo shops are major sources for AIDS and Hepatitis. For instance, one letter to a community newspaper in southern New Jersey charged that tattooing was involved in "the terrible price paid by loss of human life to AIDS" and went on to mention Hepatitis in a similar manner.
In response, local New Jersey tattoo artist Patrick Levins wrote: "While I understand how the debate about America's shifting cultural attitudes toward tattooing can get emotional, I think responsible citizens will agree it's important to address such health issues factually and logically."
Federal Disease Experts
CDC is the nation's foremost authority on communicable diseases. It plays the leading role in investigating and documenting the patterns and
CDC categorizes tattooists as "personal service workers" along with hairdressers, barbers, manicurists, acupuncturists, and massage therapists. Since the early 1980s, this overall category of workers has received intense scrutiny in ongoing CDC investigations of how the HIV virus that causes AIDS is spread.
Brief but Dramatic: CDC AIDS Data
Hepatitis: More Dentists Than Tattoos
Both numbers would appear to represent low levels of hepatitis risk -- a risk that has been further reduced by new safety procedures required by state law of both dental offices and tattoo studios.
Some political pundits have noted that, given the statistics, community activists who are sincerely concerned about the potential spread of AIDS or hepatitis would do better to concentrate on local dentists rather than local prospective tattoo shop operators.
Other observers point out that while it is important to be vigilant for potential community health problems, there is no documentable basis to support public allegations that the process of contemporary commercial tattooing is an unreasonably disease-prone one.
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 The HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report is published regularly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most recent, published in December, 1997, is entitled "Estimated incidence of AIDS and deaths of persons with AIDS, adjusted for delays in reporting, by quarter-year of diagnosis/death, United States, January 1985 through June 1997."
 Hepatitis Surveillance, Report Number 56, April, 1996, Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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