Tattoos in the Medical News
01:50 PM
biohazzard tattoo.jpg
Michael Lee Howard's tattoos via CNN

A number of interesting articles on tattoos in the medical news have popped up recently, from infections to patient monitoring to symbols of HIV acceptance.

First up, according to Medical News Today, a report in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal cites two cases (only one confirmed) of a rare bacterial skin infection, Mycobacterium haemophilum, acquired by two healthy men who were tattooed at the same Seattle studio. The article states that it is "a bacterium that rarely affects people with a healthy immune system" and it is also difficult to treat with antibiotics. Here's the interesting part:  the tattoo studio was investigated and found to have complied with all Washington State safety standards. Investigators also took samples of equipment, containers, soap dispensers, etc. and did not find traces of the bacteria either. [Although, the inspection was conducted four months after the tattoo was done.]  The authors of the study suspect that the source could be from tap water used to dilute the ink for shading, and so they recommend using steam-distilled or sterile water in tattooing. Here's the link to full article (PDF).

Next, CNN profiles HIV-positive men and their tattoos. The central focus of the article is Michael Lee Howard, whose tattoos are shown above -- a biohazzard sign ("an unspoken 'symbol for the HIV-positive community'") and radiation symbol (representing his "rebirth"). The tattoos are not only personal markings for Howard but also designed for public discourse. The article explains:

Showing the world his status through the tattoos was like a second coming out for Howard. And the responses from others about the tattoos have been overwhelmingly positive. Since his tattoos are so prominent, Howard gets asked about them all the time. They give Howard opportunities for dialogue about living with HIV, with everyone from fellow light-rail commuters to his boss.

CNN also talked to Nick Colella of Chicago Tattooing and Piercing Company, who said that, at least since 1994, he has been tattooing HIV-related symbols on clients at the shop.

Colella used to tattoo more memorial motifs honoring people who had died of AIDS when he was starting out -- less so now, since modern antiretroviral medications effectively let patients live long lives with HIV as a chronic illness. Colella, like other tattoo artists, sterilizes his equipment and throws used needles away in biohazard-labeled containers so diseases transmitted through blood, including HIV, do not spread from person to person.


"People symbolize happiness, sadness, sexuality, everything with tattoos. It's all the good, all the bad, all the everything," [Nick] said.

Read more of this extensive feature and check its photo gallery and video segment here.

Finally, many thanks to all who sent me links to articles on the "electronic tattoo" that could "revolutionize patient monitoring." Science Magazine recently published studies on epidermal electronics -- ultra-thin devices placed on the surface of skin, like temporary tattoos, which pick up electric signals in the body. Researchers also studied how epidermal electronics could be utilized beyond patient monitoring, such as in gaming. Their goals are wide reaching, as the BBC reports:

John Rogers, professor in material science and engineering at the University of Illinois, said: "Our goal was to develop an electronic technology that could integrate with the skin in a way that is invisible to the user.

"It's a technology that blurs the distinction between electronics and biology."


Imagine the artistic possibilities -- perhaps tattoos that change color or pattern depending on brain waves or electric heart signals. And of course, I can't help but think how the sex industry will adapt this technology: electronic tattoo dildonics?

connect with us

Marisa Kakoulas
Miguel Collins
Craig Dershowitz
Brian Grosz
Sean Risley
Patrick Sullivan
Needles and Sins powered by Moveable Type.

Site designed and programmed by Striplab.

NS logo designed by Viktor Koen.