I’m not, which considering I am known to change the colour of my hair every five weeks and currently have purple highlights surprises people. It’s not that I’m against tattoos, but that I have not yet found a symbol that speaks to me enough to get one done. The other and probably more truthful reason is that I had an uncle contract Hep C after getting a tattoo. From my teens, I knew from an infection prevention perspective that things can go very, very wrong if cleaning, disinfection and sterilization is not completed correctly, each and every time.
While not associated with improper cleaning and disinfection, there was a recent study published in the British Medical Journal Case Reports that reviewed the death of a “youngish” male who contracted flesh-eating bacteria in the area of a newly “inked” tattoo. If it was not associated to cleaning and disinfection, then what was the cause? Why, ignoring instructions for care of a newly “inked” tattoo and swimming in the Gulf of Mexico of course. According to the study, the infection was caused by Vibrio vulnificus which is present in many marine environments.
According to the CDC, Vibriosis causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States every year. Vibrio vulnificus is a Gram-negative bacillus that only affects humans and other primates. It is in the same family as bacteria that cause cholera and is found in warm coastal waters, and is present at higher levels between May and October, hence the reason why you should not swim with freshly tattooed skin or even cuts or scrapes! Most people will contract an infection after eating raw seafood that contains the bacteria. It’s particularly prevalent in oysters, but that never stops me from eating them! As described in the study, infection can also occur when the bacteria enters the body through a break (cut or scrape or tattoo) in the skin, most likely by swimming in contaminated coastal water.
Does this really have anything to do with cleaning and disinfection? Not really, but every once and a while you need to take a detour, and since we’re moving into summertime which signifies swimming, consider it a public service announcement not to swim for at least 2 weeks after you have gotten a tattoo! It may also serve as a reminder for me why I’ve not yet gotten a tattoo. I love the water. I love swimming, boating and paddle boarding. I now know I’ll never get a tattoo in the summer!