From the desk of Doc Smo – Tattoos and Children

I just got back from California where I visited my son. I had never been to California but have heard for years that Californians are trend-setters for the rest of the country. What is being done in California, the rest of us will be doing soon. The weather was very warm while we were there, and my son lives at the beach, hence the residents of his town were dressed in summer clothes, exposing a lot of their skin. What I noticed is how prevalent tattooing is among the population of Southern California. It seemed that the majority of both young and old people had tattoos, many with almost contiguous art stamped on the visible parts of their bodies.

With this as my backdrop, I was very interested to read in my “Morbidity and Mortality” weekly report this week from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) about an outbreak of an unusual skin infections directly attributed to infected tattoo ink. The investigators at the CDC linked this ink to outbreaks of skin infection in four different states. The ink was found by the CDC to be infected during the manufacturing process, not by the tattoo artist at the point of use. The germs isolated belonged to a group of germs called nontuberculous mycobacterium, a soil bacteria which can cause an infection that is very difficult to treat. A few of the skin infections were so severe that the clients needed surgery to remove the infected skin!

We have all heard of the health risks associated with tattooing: blood-borne diseases such as Hepatitis B and C as well as HIV can be acquired through the tattooing process. Although rare, now we need to add bacterial skin infections to the list of dangers from tattooing. In my mind, life is dangerous enough, so do we really need to add more risk with body art? Teens and young adults are often looking for ways to be unique in a very visible way. Tattooing certainly provides such an opportunity, but at what cost? I think young teens need to be given facts about the risks of body art from their best source, their parents. Who has your child’s best interest at heart more than you?  If there is a teen in your house, take the time to explore this subject soon, won’t you?

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Tattoo-Associated Nontuberculous Mycobacterial Skin Infections- Multiple States, 2011-2012, August 24, 2012/61 (33);653-656