Tattoo Ink Blamed for Skin Infection Outbreak in Rochester, NY

A new report is blaming tattoo ink for skin infection outbreaks in Rochester, New York. These infections are different than others involving tattoos and appear to be caused by tattoo ink, not tattoo needles.

Health officials report that there is a rise in cases of skin infections caused by a common bacteria that was traced to tattoo ink, said FoxNews. The largest such outbreak involved 19 people in Rochester, who suffered from what FoxNews described as “bubbly rashes” at their new tattoo site.

Most tattoo-related infections—hepatitis, staph, MRSA—have been linked to dirty needles and filthy conditions. These newer cases, said FoxNews, were linked to an unidentified tattoo artist who did wear disposable gloves and who did sterilize his tools. The artist, however, was using contaminated ink. “Even if you get a tattoo from a facility that does everything right, it’s not risk free,” Dr. Byron Kennedy, deputy director of the health department in New York’s Monroe County, told FoxNews. Dr. Kennedy is lead author of a report on last fall’s Rochester outbreak, which was released, this week, by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Over the past year, 22 case have been confirmed and another 30 cases have been suspected in similar skin infections across the country, in Colorado, Iowa, New York, and Washington state, health officials told FoxNews. All of the infections were linked to either ink or water used to dilute tattoo ink. Health officials advise that tattoo artists and ink makers only use sterile water to dilute ink, wrote FoxNews; customers should ask what type of ink is being used and what infection prevention measures are in place.

These new illnesses were caused by a bacterial relative of tuberculosis: Mycobacterium chelonae which can lead to itchy and painful pus-filled blisters, explained FoxNews. The infection can linger for months and the treatment involves very strong antibiotics and a host of side effects. The bacteria are typically seen in tap water, and have been previously seen when tattoo artists utilized tainted water to lighten dark ink.

The ink used in New York was “gray wash,” generally used in shaded tattoo areas. The ink was recalled, said FoxNews and removed from the market; however, manufacturers of gray wash sometimes use distilled water to lighten ink, wrongly believing the water is clear of dangerous contaminants. Bacteria can live in that water and ink, said Tara MacCannell, who led a related investigation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Fox News. That study appears in this week’s CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Although some ink makers substitute witch hazel or an alcohol preservative to reduce infection risks, those additives to not kill the chelonae bacteria, said MacCannell. Investigators found the bacteria in both opened and unopened ink bottles at the New York tattoo parlor, but did not find it in the shop’s water, MacCannell said.

Reports of sickness in tattoo customers have been received over the past decade and appear to be on the rise with more and more people opting for the skin art, say experts. In fact, today, about one in every five U.S. adults have at least one tattoo, an increase from prior years, according to polls, said FoxNews.

We previously wrote that the increasing prevalence of tattoos, world-wide, appears to be linked to the growing risk of being diagnosed with hepatitis C, according to a multi-national study. That study involved a systemic review of 124 studies published from 30 countries and revealed that people with tattoos experience a nearly three-fold likelihood of developing hepatitis C versus people with no tattoos. The researchers concluded that infection-control guidelines are needed for tattoo artists and clients with enforcement occurring via inspections, record keeping, and adverse event reporting.

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