TATTOO fans are risking catching deadly diseases including HIV and hepatitis by using backstreet branders.
Public protection chiefs have now vowed to crack down on the illegal artists who can face fines of up to £1,000.
Several investigations have recently been carried out in Hartlepool into unregistered tattoo and piercing businesses operating out of private homes.
Those wanting body art done are now being warned that if they use the cheap firms they risk being infected with a host of viruses and skin conditions.
And anyone who thinks they have been under the needle of an unregistered artist are being urged to visit their doctors for blood tests.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s licensing team and the Health Protection Agency carried out the probes after receiving “several” complaints about rogue tattooists in the town.
Among them were allegations of children as young as 16 going under the ink needle. The legal age is 18.
Dr Peter Acheson, consultant in health protection for the Health Protection Agency in the North-East, said: “When tattooists or body-piercers don’t use sterile equipment there is a risk that infections can pass from one client to another. These can range from skin infections to serious blood-borne viruses, including HIV and hepatitis B and C.
“Anyone who has had a tattoo in the past from an unregistered tattooist and is concerned should contact their GP who will be able to offer tests for blood-borne viruses.
“I would urge anyone who is considering having a tattoo to make sure they use someone who is properly registered. As tempting as it might be to have it done cheaply, it’s simply not worth the risk.”
Dave Barnfather, the council’s senior licensing officer, said two people were recently found to be tattooing in their own homes while not registered.
Anyone found running an unlicensed tattooing business faces a large fine, but licensing bosses say it is hard to gather the evidence needed to prove they are operating as a business.
In the two most recent cases, officers visited the addresses and warning letters were issued stating that fines would be imposed if the claims could be proved and police could also become involved.
Mr Barnfather said: “Both tattooing and piercing carry significant health risks if not done correctly and it is illegal for anyone to carry on a business as a tattooist without first being registered with the council.
“Residential premises are generally not suitable for carrying out tattooing and will probably not have the appropriate controls in place to sterilise equipment, dispose of clinical waste legally and reduce the risk of infection.”
People wanting a tattoo done should ask to see the council registration certificates of both the artist and the premises, which should be clearly displayed in the parlour.
That means they have met the required standards and inspectors have found all relevant health and safety measures have been met.
Artists wanting to carry out paid for work must contact the council for advice and to begin the registration process.
To find out more or if you have information about suspected illegal tattooing businesses in Hartlepool, contact the council’s licensing team on (01429) 523361.