Contaminated Tattoo Ink Caused Skin Infections, FDA Says

By Amir Khan on August 24, 2012 6:20 AM EDT

Tattoo
Thinking of getting a tattoo? You may want to think again. Contaminated tattoo ink has left more than 40 people with hard to treat rashes and skin infections -- even though all sterilization procedures were followed, according to the Food and Drug Administration. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Thinking of getting a tattoo? You may want to think again. Contaminated tattoo ink has left more than 40 people with hard to treat rashes and skin infections -- even though all sterilization procedures were followed, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The investigation began after a 20-year-old man in Upstate New York contracted a rash that he could not get rid of. A doctor biopsied the rash, and found that it was caused by a rare bacteria known as Mycobacterium chelonae, a distant relative of tuberculosis. And while the bacteria aren't life threatening, they cause a rash that can take weeks to get rid of.

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"As soon as biopsy came back," Dr. Mark Goldgeier, who saw the first patient, told ABC News. "I knew something in the process of tattooing was involved -- the ink, the water used for dilution, the syringes, the dressings."

In the past year, there have been 22 confirmed cases and 30 suspected cases of the infection in Colorado, Iowa, New York and Washington state. Researchers began investigating the cases and found that the tattoo artists followed all necessary procedures.

"We went there several times," Dr. Byron Kennedy of the Monroe County, N.Y., department of public health., told NBC News. "And we interviewed all 19 patients. they all confirmed they observed the artist using disposable gloves ... using clean needles, and the like."

The researchers eventually discovered that the infections were caused by ink diluted with distilled water, not sterile water. The researchers published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Even if you get a tattoo from a facility that does everything right, it's not risk free," Kennedy told the Associated Press.

MacCannell, a epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NBC News that some places use alcohol to sterilize their equipment, but said that doesn't always work.

"Non-tubercular mycoplasmae have no problem living in alcohol. They have no problem living in witch hazel," she said. "They are related to tuberculosis and that is a very hard bug to kill, too. They are generally known to be resistant to disinfectants."

Researchers said they were unsure how the ink made it past FDA inspection.

"Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, tattoo inks are considered to be cosmetics, and the pigments used in the inks are color additives requiring premarket approval," researchers wrote in the study.

Unfortunately, many tattoo artists are not aware of the bacteria and are not able to check for it themselves.

"They can do all those things right and get this contaminated tattoo ink and still result in infection," MacCannell said. "There are lots of people who are very conscientious about their practices ... yet they are not given the tools to ensure the sterility of the product."

The CDC recommends that consumers be vigilant about ensuring their tattoo parlor uses hygienic practices. They recommend asking the tattoo artist what type of ink is being used and procedures are in place to prevent infections.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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