Medicine: Ears and the Liver

The mother of a girl who had her ear lobes pierced in a Seattle jewelry store complained that the jeweler had used soiled instruments. A team of disease detectives headed by Dr. Carl J. Johnson investigated, fearing that ear piercing — like tattooing and mainlining heroin — might spread hepatitis. The jeweler said that he soaked his needles in 70% alcohol, but Johnson pointed out that this treatment does not kill the stubborn hepatitis virus. The team tracked down 48 young women who had had hitherto unexplained viral hepatitis and found that seven had recently had their ears pierced. Not...