- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

ATLANTA (AP) — A worrisome superbug seen in prisoners and athletes is also is showing up in people who get tattoos from unlicensed tattoo artists, federal health officials said yesterday.

Forty-four tattoo customers in Ohio, Kentucky and Vermont developed skin infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The infections occurred in 2004 and 2005 and were traced to 13 unlicensed tattoo artists, according to an article in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

These are the first documented cases of tattoo-related MRSA infections, said Dr. Mysheika LeMaile-Williams, a CDC infectious-disease investigator who co-authored the report.

MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that fights off the body’s immune system and destroys tissues. The community-associated variety, seen in the tattoo infections, has been diagnosed in otherwise healthy athletes, military recruits and prison inmates.

The skin infections can be transmitted from person to person by contact with draining sores, or through contact with contaminated items or surfaces. MRSA generally causes mild skin infections, but in some cases has led to pneumonia, bloodstream infections and a painful, flesh-destroying condition called necrotizing fasciitis.

Clusters of MRSA cases were seen in Ohio in June 2004, November 2004 and April 2005, involving a total of 33 persons. A four-person cluster was reported in Kentucky in May 2005, and a seven-person cluster was reported in Vermont in August.

Four of the patients were hospitalized, but all recovered, Dr. LeMaile-Williams said.

All of the affected customers went to unlicensed artists. Instead of doing the work in tattoo parlors, the body art was done in the homes of the tattooists or the recipients, or even in public places such as parks.

The tattooists sometimes did not use masks or gloves, did not properly disinfect skin and did not properly clean the equipment. One Ohio tattooist used a homemade tattoo gun made from a computer ink-jet cartridge and guitar strings, Dr. LeMaile-Williams said.

Three of the Ohio tattooists recently had been jailed, she said.

Customers sometimes seek unlicensed tattooists because their services are less expensive, or because the customers are younger than 18 and cannot go to a licensed tattooist without parental consent, Dr. LeMaile-Williams said.

Several of the infected patients were under 18, she added.

The tattoo cases are not surprising, said Dr. Kate Heilpern, an Atlanta emergency-room physician and Emory University researcher who has studied MRSA.

The superbug is appearing in locker rooms, homes and many other unsterile places where people are in skin-to-skin contact.

“We are still riding a big wave of this bacterial infection, and I really don’t see any end in sight,” she said.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide