SMITH COUNTY, TEXAS (KLTV) - Health officials began their investigation after one young person tested positive for a communicable disease. The exact illness was not made public because of patient confidentiality.
But Dr. Paul McGaha, regional director of state health services said it's possible there could be more young East Texas who have yet to be tested.
McGaha said, fortunately, all 18 tests have come back negative.
"If they don't clean their needles, if they don't use proper infection control, if they don't use proper technique, it is a risk," he said.
McGaha said it's customary to test for HIV and Hepatitis when needles are concerned.
Health officials issued a cease and desist order to Dre Harrison, the man they alleged conducted an illegal tattoo operation from his home at the Liberty Arms Apartment complex.
Liberty Arms management told us they were first notified of the operation by health department staff just days before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Management also said they spoke with Harrison, who is not a resident, earlier this week and he denied the allegations.
"People come in and they ask me, what is this big bump coming up on my skin, and it's hard for me to say, you might want to go get that checked out," said Paul Masson, a tattoo artist. Masson owns Lil Paul's Tattoo Studio and said, unfortunately, those meetings happens frequently.
Glutaraldehyde is a term Masson is all too familiar with. He said any legitimate tattoo artist would be--it's just one of the chemical Masson uses to disinfect his equipment.
Cleanliness is not an option for studios regulated by the state.
Masson said they sterilize their equipment daily, and his entire staff has to be OSHA certified in blood-borne pathogens.
Health officials hope to put a stop to the Harrison operation before more young East Texans are effected.
About 80 percent of people who contract Hepatitis-C show no signs or symptoms of the incurable disease. If infected, the disease could lead to chronic liver disease, which can lead to death.
The Texas State Department of Health Services is offering free screenings to anyone who believes they may have been exposed to the disease.
For information, call 903.533.5330.