Officials trace infections to tattoo ink

August 29, 2012

Health officials have identified a type of prediluted ink as the source of skin infections in tattoos that have been reported in four states.

Atlanta - Health officials have identified a type of prediluted ink as the source of skin infections in tattoos that have been reported in four states.

Investigators with the Food and Drug Administration in January 2012 began reviewing reports of seven people in Rochester, N.Y. who had raised, bubbly rashes after receiving tattoos. As many as 19 people got the skin infections after getting tattoos from the same artist, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

The infections were cased by a common bacteria, nontuberculosis Mycobacteria chelonae, which was traced to a type of prediluted ink or the water used to dilute the ink. Investigators determined that the tattoo artist used sterile practices and didn’t dilute the ink before use. Water and environmental samples taken from the tattoo parlor were negative for M. chelonae.

Additional investigations by local, state and federal authorities led to 22 confirmed cases of the skin infection and more than 30 suspected cases in New York, Colorado, Iowa and Washington. The FDA found M. chelonae contamination in two of five identified clusters of infections. All of those who were infected were exposed to one of four different brands of ink, the CDC reports.

“No specific FDA regulatory requirement explicitly provides that tattoo inks must be sterile,” the CDC stated in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “However, the CDC recommends that ink manufacturers ensure ink is sterile and that tattoo artists avoid contamination of ink through dilution with nonsterile water. “Physicans who encounter persistent papular rashes or nodules localized to newly tattooed areas should consider the possibility of an (M. chelonae) infection,” the CDC stated.

A perspective article about the tattoo-related skin infections was published Aug. 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Go back to the Dermatology Times eNews newsletter.