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Survey: 20 Percent Of Body Piercings Lead To Infections

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Northwestern University research survey at has turned up data showing around 20 percent of all body piercings end up with infections.

As WBBM Newsradio's John Cody reports, the infections are usually mild and local. But on rare occasions, they can lead to toxic shock syndrome, viral hepatitis or endocarditis, among other complications.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's John Cody reports


"(The infection rates) kind of tend to hover around 20 percent," said Dr. Jamie Holbrook, a dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "Any area can become infected."

Holbrook says the most common symptoms are redness and crusting, little local infections. But the more severe infections have led to loss of tissue and even brain abscesses.

Other body piercing complications include allergies, loss of blood, scarring, and interference with medical procedures, such as MRI, X-ray or ultrasound.

The Mayo Clinic Web site says the infection rate could actually be as high as 30 percent, and a 2005 British survey showed that 15 percent of all people with piercings required treatment by a doctor.

Dr. Holbrook said her research shows that Doctors need to become more familiar with body piercings which are becoming increasingly common.

She says doctors need to know how to gently remove piercings without resorting to wire cutters in non-emergency cases.

Holbrook adds that patients need some education before getting piercings.

"If you use something that's too small of a gauge – too thin – it could potentially tear out," Holbrook said. "So people have problems with earrings sometimes if they put piercings sometimes in their ear, in their nipple, in their belly button."

Holbrook conducted the literature survey to check the safety of tongue piercings which are being used to help paraplegics guide computerized wheelchairs and communications devices.

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