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Uncommon Skin Infection Linked to Tattoos

Researchers Report Cases of Mycobacterium haemophilum in Tattoo Parlor Customers
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 11, 2011 -- Practices at some tattoo parlors may increase the risk for developing a type of skin infection that more typically occurs in people with compromised immune systems, a study shows.

Two reported cases of Mycobacterium haemophilum skin infections in tattoo parlor customers mark the first time this type of skin infection has been linked to tattoos and tattooing.

The findings are published in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Researchers say two people may have developed Mycobacterium haemophilum skin infections after getting a tattoo at the same parlor.

The researchers suspect the infections developed because the tattoo parlor operator used tap water, not sterilized water, in a rinsing solution to dilute the ink for shading.

"Although infections attributable to water appear uncommon, we advise against using tap water for tattoo procedures," conclude study authors who were led by Meagan K. Kay of the CDC in King County, Wash.

In August 2009, a healthy 44-year old man developed a painless rash where he received a tattoo. A doctor eventually identified the cause of the infection as Mycobacterium haemophilum, and the man was successfully treated with antibiotics. Another healthy 35-year-old man developed a similar infection after receiving a tattoo at the same tattoo parlor. The infection source was suspected but not confirmed in the second patient.

The researchers were unable to pinpoint the bacterial source in the municipal water supply because such testing is difficult and time consuming, but they believe it is the likely source. The tattoo parlor is now instructed to use sterile water for rinsing solutions.

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