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Tattoo Infections Found At Rochester Medical Center Cause for Concern

By HERWriter
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infected tattoos found at Rochester Medical Center have raised concerns PS Productions/Photospin

It may be difficult to tell if a fresh tattoo is developing an infection, an allergic reaction or just has redness related to healing.

At University of Rochester, Medical Center 19 cases of tattoo infections were found to occur over a two-month period last year.

The cases were reported in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on August 2012. To read the study click here.

The infections were traced to contaminated pre-mixed and pre-packaged grey tattoo ink used by a single tattoo parlor, not through poor technique or other unhygienic practices of the facility, reported the Los Angeles Times.

The situation began when one man, who had had several previous tattoos, sought medical care for a rash that would not resolve on his most recent tattoo.

The tattooed area was biopsied and Mycobacterium chelonae was found in the patient’s skin, which had caused red, itchy bumps to develop.

Mary Gail Mercurio, M.D., a dermatologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, also examined 18 other post-tattoo patients who had similar symptoms of this infection.

She informed the Monroe Dept of Health of her concerns due to the high incidence of tattoo-related infections found in such a short period of time.

“Robert F. Betts, M.D., a long-time infectious disease expert at the Medical Center who treated almost all of the patients, confirmed that the infection was only in the areas tattooed with the gray ink,” according to Sciencedaily.com.

Health department investigators visited the tattoo parlor where 14 of the patients had received their tattoos. It was determined that sterile technique and single-use containers had been used appropriately.

The problem was found to exist in the line of pre-mixed grey ink produced by a factory in Arizona. This type of grey ink is used by tattoo artists to create photographic shading.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) visited the plant, collected ink samples and sent them to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) to be analyzed.

It was found that the ink was contaminated with the same strain of M. chelonae, even in unopened containers of the ink. The company has since recalled all the containers of ink.

These cases prompted the CDC to send out a nationwide alert about the infectious ink and they reported the occurrence in their weekly Morbidity and Mortality report.

Two other states, Washington and Iowa also found cases of infections that were tied to ink made by another company.

This problem of potential infections that can come from getting a tattoo goes beyond the regular precautions consumers must be aware of.

People receiving a tattoo must check that the parlor practices hygienic technique.

This means that the tattoo artists wear gloves, avoid the practice of ink dilution, avoid the addition of non-sterile water to the ink, and use only ink intended for tattooing to come in contact with the skin.

The New York Times added from a follow-on report that “even if a person receives a tattoo at a tattoo parlor that maintains the highest standards of hygienic practice, there remains a risk of infection from the use of contaminated ink. People who get tattoos must be made aware of this risk.”


1. Kennedy, Byron S, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H. et al. Outbreak of Mycobacterium chelonae Infection Associated with Tattoo Ink. N Engl J Med 2012; 367:1020-1024September 13, 2012. Retrieved Sept. 13, 2012

2. Tainted Tattoo Ink Led to Skin Infection Outbreak
Premixed 'gray wash' product found as culprit has been discontinued

3. FDA and CDC warn that tattoo ink can be hazardous to your health. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved Sept. 13, 2012.

4. In Rochester, a Tale of Tainted Tattoos: Outbreak Highlights New Source of Infection – Tattoo. ScienceDaily, 6 Sep. 2012. Retrieved 15 Sep. 2012.

Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles

Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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