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    Rare skin infection, tattoos linked

    Atlanta — Two cases of otherwise healthy men acquiring a rare bacterial skin infection apparently after receiving tattoos at a Seattle parlor have prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to recommend that tattoo artists use sterilized water in their procedures, Medical News Today reports.

    In the one confirmed case, a healthy 44-year-old man who received a tattoo in August 2009 has tested positive for Mycobacterium haemophilum, a bacterium that rarely affects people with a healthy immune system and is difficult to treat with antibiotics.

    The yet-to-be-confirmed case is of a healthy 35-year-old man who received a tattoo at the same parlor two months later. His tests were inconclusive, and the CDC is treating his case as a “suspected” infection, according to a report in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. The authors also write that although they are rare, difficult-to-treat bacterial infections have been reported even in healthy people who receive tattoos.

    The authors note that local authorities investigated the parlor in December 2009 and found it in compliance with Washington state safety and sanitation standards. Authorities instructed the owner to use sterilized rather than tap water for rinse solutions and diluting tattoo dyes, even though no traces of M. haemophilum were found in the parlor’s tap water.

    The authors further note that water has been suspected as a reservoir for M. haemophilum, and speculate that the four-month interval between the man’s visit and testing of the parlor’s tap water may have reduced the chance of recovering any M. haemophilum. The report notes that Washington state does not specifically require tattoo artists to use steam-distilled or sterile water in their procedures.

    The CDC concludes and recommends that despite the fact infections due to water appear uncommon, operators should not use tap water for tattoo procedures.

    Bill Gillette
    Bill Gillette is a freelance writer based in Richmond Heights, Ohio.

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