Tattoos Can Be a Hazard to Your Health

Commentary: I've wondered many times about people who are tattooing their bodies, tongues, nose, lips, and etc., and I've asked myself, "How do these people know they're not being tattooed with tainted ink or clean needles?"

I could not believe it when I read this article in that there is an outbreak of infected tattoos and it possibly came from an unlikely source, the ink. It was reported by researchers this past Wednesday that there was the largest outbreak, 19 people in Rochester, N.Y., who have bubbly rashes on their new tattoos. As the popularity of tattoos continue to grow, health officials indicated they're seeing more cases of a nasty skin infection which is caused by a common bacterial that has been traced to the ink.

I'm glad my question finally received an answer from health officials. I've had this concern for some time now. I've also thought about the spread of the HIV virus, MRSA, staph infections, Hepatitis and other diseases from the use of dirty needles, unsanitary conditions, not using gloves, and people tattooing without washing their hands properly too. This report also indicated these diseases can be transferred through dirty needles too.

The article stated that all the New York cases were linked to an unidentified artist who wore disposable gloves and used sterilized instruments. The investigator indicated in this case was caused by the ink that was used. Who would have ever guessed the ink was tainted with bacteria? I had never given this any thought.

In the article Dr. Byron Kennedy, deputy director of the health department in New York's Monroe County stated, "Even if you get a tattoo from a facility that does everything right, it's not risk free."

According to health officials this past year alone, there have been 22 confirmed cases and more than 30 suspected cases of skin infections in Colorado, Iowa, New York and Washington State. It was determined that the infections were tied to ink or water used to dilute the ink. Health officials have advised that tattoo artists and ink makers should use only sterile water to dilute ink.

The article stated experts said there have been scattered reports of illnesses in tattoo customers, and they may be growing more common as people are getting more tattoos. According to polls an estimated 1 in 5 U.S. adults have at least one tattoo, an increase from past years.

The article stated these illnesses were caused by a bacterial cousin of tuberculosis named Mycobacterium chelonae (pronounced chell-OH-nay). This bacterial causes itchy and painful pus-filled blisters that may several months to clear up, and involve treatment with harsh antibiotics with unpleasant side effects. The bacteria are common in tap water, and have been seen in the past when tattoo artists used contaminated water to lighten dark ink. The ink used in New York was "gray wash," used for shaded areas of tattoos. The ink was recalled and has not returned to the market.

The article stated companies that make gray wash sometimes use distilled water to lighten the ink, believing it's clean of infection-causing contaminants. Tara MacCannell, who led a related investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the bacteria can live in that too. MacCannell's study appeared in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report which was released this past Wednesday.

The article indicated that some ink manufacturers add witch hazel or an alcohol preservative to lower risk of certain viruses, but those additives don't kill off the hardy chelonae bacteria, MacCannell added.

MacCannel said that investigators found the bacteria in opened and unopened bottles of ink at the New York tattoo parlor; they did not find it in water at the shop.

Health officials say tattoo customers should ask what kind of ink is being used and what measures are in place to prevent infections.

It's my belief, "That people who are getting tattoo's should go in and ask all the necessary questions about the sanitizing of their equipment and by what mean they carry out their sanitizing process; do they wear gloves; question the type of ink they use; use a face mask; and any other questions they have concerning the tattoo process before they get a tattoo put on their body."

It's important to look around the shop to see the cleanliness of each tattoo station too because a person can usually tell about how the tattoo artist owner keeps their equipment clean, etc. by the looks of their shop.