Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM): Dangerous bacteria found in tattoo ink

By Syed Akbar
Planning for a tattoo? Make sure that the ink used in tattoo designs is safe and not 
contaminated by harmful chemicals or disease-causing germs. As tattoo is fast becoming a 
fashion statement among youngsters, health experts warn that a little negligence could 
lead to severe health complications. Researchers in the USA have found a group of 
bacteria called non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) in tattoo inks.

City doctors have sounded a health warning after many people in the USA reported health 
issues related to NTM after they underwent tattoo sessions. In the last few months, there 
has been a multi-state outbreak of infections linked to contaminated tattoo inks in the 
United States.

Many people in India too suffer from tattoo-related health issues, but in the absence of 
a regulatory body that governs tattoo parlours, these cases go unreported. City 
dermatologists say they regularly treat cases related to tattoo allergies. Though there 
is no official data on tattoos in India, it is estimated that at least five per cent of 
youngsters have undergone tattoo sessions. In rural areas, tattoos are quite popular and 
mostly done under bad sanitary conditions.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention 
(CDC) of the United States have come out with guidelines, “the hidden dangers of getting 
inked”. The guidelines say that “even if tattoo artists follow proper hygienic practices, 
they may not know that their inks are contaminated. People from all walks of life have 
tattoos, which might lead you to believe that tattoos are completely safe. But there are 
health risks that can result in the need for medical care”. Unfortunately, such 
guidelines do not exist in India.

Warns Dr Radha Shah, senior dermatologist from Apollo Hospitals: “While getting tattoos 
done, if the instrument is not sterlised properly, transmission of diseases like TB, 
leprosy, hepatitis B, viral warts etc., can happen”.

She says the dye used can give rise to allergic reactions. In cases of photosensitivity, 
when exposed to sun, the area can get allergic. “Choose a parlour, which uses fresh 
needles and maintains hygiene. Another aspect is, permanent tattoos especially the 
multi-coloured ones cannot be got rid of easily. Therefore, one should opt for temporary 
tattoos,” Dr Radha Shah adds.

Given the compromised hygienic conditions at tattoo parlours in Hyderabad and other 
cities in India, health experts suggest that people, who got tattooed, should immediately 
consult doctor in case they notice skin rashes or develop fever. Hyderabad has a little 
over two dozen tattoo centres and they are not regulated by either health or drug control 

The risks

If a germ called Mycobacterium chelonae finds its way into tattoo inks, it could create 
severe health problems related to lungs, joints and eyes. As many medical and research 
labs in India are not well equipped, diagnosing the problem becomes even more difficult, 
resulting in patient suffering for longer periods even beyond six months.

Tattoo ink may also be contaminated with molds and other types of harmful bacteria.

Doctors suggest that tattoo artists use sterilised inks and distilled or filtered water 
to dilute inks to prevent infections.

Do not buy skin creams or ointments from tattoo parlours or artists. Consult a 
dermatologist or physician and follow doctor’s prescription.

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