Many of you have probably seen the signs around town about the Tattoo Expo that is happening this weekend in Phoenix. Tattoos have been growing in popularity over the past decade, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely safe. Recently there was a recall of tattoo ink because the ink was contaminated with an unusual (and stubborn) bacteria called Mycobacteria. Some of these contaminated inks have caused serious infections, including lung disease and joint infections. Mycobacteria infections may look similar to allergic reactions, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about your tattoos. If you suspect you have a tattoo-related infection you should contact your health care provider and report the problem to the tattoo artist. You can also report the problem to the FDA’s MedWatch or 1.800.332.1088.
Tattooing involves intentional cutting (injuring) the skin and introducing ink to create permanent markings. If the tattoo shop doesn’t practice good control measures then blood can be shared between people- potentially leading to infections like hepatitis C, HIV, and staph skin infections. Even if they practice good hygiene, you can still end up with a secondary infection- because your skin (which protects your body from bacteria, viruses and fungi) has been injured. I blogged about this previously in Tattoo You? and said it’s up to you to decide if the risks are worth it.
If you do decide to get a tattoo, it’s important to look at the practices of the staff in the shop. Be sure to look around and ask questions. You’ll want to be sure the shop sterilizes equipment and that the ink, needles or other equipment are not shared between people. Tattoo artists can minimize the risk of infection by using inks that are specially made to ensure they are free from disease-causing bacteria, and avoiding the use of non-sterile water to dilute the inks or wash the skin. Non-sterile water includes tap, bottled, filtered, or distilled water. Also, pay attention to the infection control advice they give you when you leave.