New Bacteria linked to Tattoos

November 12, 2012

New Bacteria linked to Tattoos

Although many people choose to sport tattoos on their bodies many do not know that the actual procedure is not considered a sterile procedure within the United States. The lack of regulation at federal level increases the risk of infection to those being tattooed. Although some federal control, in the form of the Food and Drug Administration, is applied to the inks and pigments used by tattooists the regulation only applies when color additives or cosmetics are involved.

A recent case involved two people who developed skin lesions after being tattooed. The conclusion was that a bacteria not previously linked to tattooing had caused the infection. The names of the infections were related to Mycobacterium haemophilum. Previous findings had indicated that this bacterium only attacked people with immune systems in some way not healthy. In this case though both people came from the same geographical area, Seattle, and had normal immune systems, and yet still developed a rash, the investigation found.

The report author, Dr. Meagan K. Kay who works as an epidemic intelligence service officer for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that “Two people developed chronic skin infections after receiving tattoos at the same parlor”. She then went on to say “The patrons were thought to have been exposed through use of tap water during rinsing and diluting of inks”.

The CDC’s journal ‘Emerging Infectious Diseases’ reports that the incident happened in 2009 raising further concerns about the risk of infection caused by tattooing. A 44 year old man and a 35 year old man, both from Seattle required medical treatment for skin infections after recently visiting a tattoo parlor. Samples taken from the lesions from the first man were evaluated duringlaboratory testing and mycobacterium haemophilumwas found to be present. Although the second man was classified ‘suspected case’ his symptoms were identical to the first man’s leading researchers to conclude he suffered from the same sort of bacterial contamination.

The tattoo parlor was then visited and it was found that the tattooist used tap water when diluting the ink. The tattooist was cleared of any safety charges but ordered to use sterilized water from now on. His belief that the water being good enough to drink was good enough to use on tattoos was incorrect. Water can have M. haemophilum present, however in this case none was found.

The public should be aware that tattooing is not a sterile procedure. This can manifest itself when infections develop after being tattooed. Tattoo artists must learn how to prevent infections by use of, sterile equipment and maintaining a clean parlor. Additional training may also be required. And never use tap water at any time when tattooing.

If you have recently had a tattoo and suspect an infection then you should go to your doctor. The common symptoms seen can be increased redness, it may be hot in that area, swelling, pain and there may be a discharge. Getting a tattoo does carry risks, it is best to be aware of them. It is actually an invasive procedure, with very little government regulation over hygiene or working practices so you should not be too surprised when things like this happen. This does not mean that the industry is suspect but the customer must be conscious to potential outcomes. The risk can be minimized by shopping around, look closely at the parlors, review people’s techniques and working practices, and if you are unsure in any way then don’t do it.

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