June 28, 2006
Superbug Outbreaks Linked to Unlicensed Tattooing
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who get tattoos from unlicensed sources are at risk of developing a drug-resistant bacterial skin infection, federal health officials warn.
Six recent outbreaks of infections with this "superbug," methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have been traced to unlicensed tattoo artists, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
MRSA infection typically manifests as abscesses or areas of inflammation on the skin, though it can also lead to more serious problems such as pneumonia, blood infections or, in some cases, necrotizing fasciitis, also referred to as the "flesh-eating disease."
While the bug was once largely confined to hospitals, it is becoming increasingly common in the general public -- showing up among prison inmates, athletic teams and others who are in close contact and may share contaminated items.
The six tattoo-related outbreaks affected 44 people in Kentucky, Ohio and Vermont, the CDC reports in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Thirty-four had recently gotten a tattoo from an unlicensed source, while 10 others contracted the infection from close contact with the tattoo recipients.
Health officials' investigations found that the tattooists in many cases did not follow standard hygiene practices like changing gloves between clients, using skin antiseptic and disinfecting equipment. Three tattooists had recently been in prison, where they could have picked up MRSA. In some cases, the amateur artists used makeshift equipment like guitar strings and computer ink-jet cartridges instead of tattoo dye.
"Persons considering a tattoo should be aware of the potential for community-acquired MRSA infection and should only use the services of a licensed tattooist who follows proper infection-control procedures," the CDC advises.
That means using sterilized or single-use equipment, including needles, tattoo guns and inks.
SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 23, 2006.