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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

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Tattoos Linked to Deadly Infection

Drug-Resistant Superbug Found in People Who Got Illegal Tattoos in 3 States

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 23, 2006 -- A potentially deadly, drug-resistant type of staph infectionstaph infection has been reported among unlicensed tattoo artists in at least three states.

A new report from the CDC shows that the antibiotic-resistant superbug known as MRSAMRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has been found in 44 people associated with illegal tattoos from 13 unlicensed tattoo artists in Ohio, Kentucky, and Vermont from 2004 to 2005.

In these cases, CDC officials say the infections were caused by the unlicensed tattoo artist failing to use gloves; masks; sterilized needles; or single-use equipment, including needles, tattoo guns, and ink supplies.

Beware of Unlicensed Tattoo Artists

In light of these outbreaks, CDC officials say people considering a tattoo should be aware of the potential risk of drug-resistant MRSA infection associated with unlicensed tattoo artists. They recommend using a licensed artist who follows proper infection-control procedures.

Most MRSA skin infections are mild, but they can develop into more invasive problems such as pneumoniapneumonia or necrotizing fasciitis (the so-called flesh-eating disease).

The infected people ranged in age from 15 to 42 years old and were mostly male. Cases included people who had close exposure (living with or close personal contact) to those who received the tattoos.

The infections ranged from small skin infections and boils to large abscesses that required surgical incision and drainage. Four of those infected developed blood infection from the MRSA and required hospitalization with treatment of intravenous antibiotics.

Outbreaks of MRSA skin infections have been reported among athletes, prison inmates, and military recruits who share close quarters and skin-to-skin contact. The infection is usually spread person to person by direct contact with a draining wound or by contact with a carrier of the bacteria who has no symptoms.

Three of the unlicensed tattoo artists involved in MRSA outbreaks in Ohio had recently been incarcerated, but it’s unclear if this was the source of the infection.

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