Tempted to get a tattoo? Today, 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. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is particularly concerned about a family of bacteria called nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) that has been found in a recent outbreak of illnesses linked to contaminated tattoo inks.
M. chelonae, one of several disease-causing NTM species, can cause lung disease, joint infection, eye problems and other organ infections. These infections can be difficult to diagnose and can require treatment lasting six months or more.
Some of these contaminated inks have caused serious infections in at least four states in late 2011 and early 2012. FDA is reaching out to tattoo artists, ink and pigment manufacturers, public health officials, health care professionals, and consumers to warn them of the potential for infection.
FDA also warns that tattoo inks, and the pigments used to color them, can become contaminated by other bacteria, mold and fungi. To raise awareness and make diagnoses more accurate, FDA strongly encourages reporting of tattoo-associated complications to its MedWatch program, says Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors.
Getting the word out to tattoo artists is particularly critical. Even when they diligently follow hygienic practices, they may not know that an ink itself may be contaminated. Contamination is not always visible in the inks, Katz says.
FDA’s goal is to encourage these artists to take certain precautions in their practice and to urge potentially infected clients to seek medical care. “Reporting an infection to FDA and the artist is important. Once the problem is reported, FDA can investigate, and the artist can take steps to prevent others from being infected,” says epidemiologist Katherine Hollinger, D.V.M., M.P.H., from the Office of Cosmetics and Colors.