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Rare Bacterial Infection Caused by Tattoos

If you’re considering getting a tattoo, keep this in mind: recently the CDC reported on two healthy individuals who contracted a potentially dangerous skin infection, that usually only strikes in people with deteriorated immune systems, after getting tattoos at a commercial tattoo parlor. Mycobacterium haemophilum, the bacteria which causes the infection, is very similar to the bacteria that cause leprosy and tuberculosis.

The disease is particularly dangerous because it is difficult to treat. The bacteria is resistant to the normal cocktail of antibiotics. For the first man who was infected with the bacteria after a visit to the tattoo parlor, even the correct combination of medicine took 6 months to heal the infection.

The tattoo parlor that both individuals allegedly contracted the bacteria from met the state’s sanitation standards, and no one has determined exactly how the infection was contracted. One researcher suspects that the tap water used to dilute the ink could have carried the bacteria into the victims’ bodies.

Since the bacteria is extremely rare, the CDC has not been particularly alarmed at the outbreak. However, they ask tattoo artists, tattoo recipients, and dermatologists to be vigilant and recognize the symptoms of a mycobacterium haemophilum infection: a rash and small lesions at the infection site.

There are other dangers of tattooing, with a link between the number of tattoos and the risk of Hepatitis C. Here are some tips for making sure your tattoo experience is as sanitary as possible:

  • Ask for qualifications, proof of passing inspection, and sanitary procedures. Never get a tattoo from an under-qualified parlor.
  • Maintain a healthy immune system. Don’t get a tattoo if your immune system is already under attack, because that may increase your risk of contracting a bacterial infection.
  • Go to a dermatologist or doctor first thing if you develop a rash.

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