Friday, 21 September 2012

Bacteria thrive in tattoo inks: Beware of contaminated 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

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 authorities.

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

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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