Yesterday, The New England Journal of Medicine published the article "Tattoo Ink-Related Infections --Awareness, Diagnosis, Reporting, and Prevention." The article is based on investigations by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into an outbreak of tattoo-related skin infections cased by a family of bacteria called nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) that has been found in a recent outbreak of illnesses linked to contaminated tattoo inks. Coordinating their investigation with state and local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they discovered 22 confirmed cases of this infection primarily in New York as well as Washington, Iowa, and Colorado. It was found that the inks were contaminated before distribution and is believed to have occurred during the production process. The inks in which the bacteria were found have been recalled.
You can find all the details in the following reports:
* FDA: Tattoo Inks Pose Health Risks
* CDC: The Hidden Dangers of Getting Inked
* CDC: Tattoo-Associated Nontuberculous Mycobacterial Skin Infections -- Multiple States, 2011-2012
Here are some key aspects of the reports I think are worth highlighting:
First, the FDA is quick to note that no matter how diligently tattooists follow hygienic procedures, infections can still incur because the bacteria were found in non-opened bottles of ink and contamination is not often visible.
Fourteen of the confirmed NTM infections, specifically Mycobacterium chelonae, came from Upstate Tattoo Company in Rochester, NY. YNN.com reports that one of the tattooists bought ink at an Arizona tattoo convention and used it on clients and the co-owner of the shop. A second supply was then ordered and that batch had the bacteria. The ink allegedly is "Catfish Carl's Realistic Wash." While the CDC does not specifically name the inks recalled, on the FDA's Enforcement report for May 23rd, 2012, it does list a recall of three different Catfish Carl's Realistic Washes. Ynn.com says that Upstate Tattoo is considering legal action against the ink manufacturer.
[Update: Upstate Tattoo Co. has been given a clean bill of health by the Monroe County Health Department, which stated the shop followed all hygienic procedures.]
The infection was first identified by a dermatolgist who contacted The Monroe County Health Department when a patient's rash persisted for a long time after receiving a tattoo at Upstate. The rash was located in the specific area where the grey wash was used, not throughout the entire tattoo. This sparked the investigation.
The CDC blog says that, after it was notified about these NY cases, it issued a public health alert and found two clusters of tattoo-associated NTM skin infections in Washington state, one in Iowa, and one in Colorado. Contamination was found in inks produced by other manufacturers, which they do not identify, and could have come from unsanitary manufacturing processes or the use of contaminated ingredients. It adds the following key fact:
[...] All were related to inks likely contaminated by non-sterile water either during the manufacturing process or during dilution by the tattoo artist just prior to tattooing a client.
Non-sterile water includes filtered or distilled water as well as tap and regular bottled water.
NTM infections look like allergic reactions and can be hard to diagnose and treat. Different types of antibiotics are often prescribed. [Ointments won't treat the problem.] If not properly treated, the FDA says that Mycobacterium chelonae can cause lung disease, joint infection, eye problems and other organ infections.According to the FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors, Dr. Linda Katz, if you experience tattoo-related complications, notify your tattooist and the FDA through its MedWatch program.
In September, from the 13th through the 16th, 120 brilliant tattooists from around the world will come together to share ideas, critique, create art, learn new developments in the industry, and of course, tattoo eager collectors.
The Paradise Tattoo Gathering is aptly named because it doesn't fit the usual "convention" menu. It's a place where artists and all lovers of tattoo can once again feel like we're a community, and to leave feeling better about the state of the craft despite the surge in its exploitation. It also doesn't hurt that it will be at the Keystone Resort, in Keystone, CO -- the heart of the beautiful Rocky Mountains. An excellent tattoo vacation destination.
What I particularly love is that the top tier of many of the schools of tattooing will be present. No matter what your preferred style -- from realism to biomech to blackwork -- there will be the very best to work with you. Check out the artist list here. While many of these tattooers book up well in advance, many save time for walk ups. Of course, it's recommended that you email or call an artist to set up a tattoo in advance if possible.
Fine art galleries and seminars are a huge part of this event as well. Chet Zar and over 20 live painters will be creating artwork onstage. Shawn Barber will be teaching three painting seminars. Adrian Lee is bringing his "Bloodwork:Bodies" art show and book signing. Chris Lowe is bringing "Still Standing: A Wounded Warrior Project" benefit art show with over 60 pieces of art for sale that will also go on prosthetic limbs for wounded vets. Al from Amped 3D is bringing his life sized 3D "Holographic" images and massive camera rig to document the best tattoos of the show. Ian McKown is curating a group art show of miniature paintings. And there will be a group art show from the tattooing artists.
Education is the big draw for the Gathering. For one, Stefano Alcantara is doing a seminar & workshop on realistic tattooing. [Correction:]
[Shameless plug: I'll be doing a seminar with another heavily tattooed attorney John Kastelic entitled "Controlling, Protecting and Profiting from Your Work: Copyright, Trademark & Licensing for Tattoo Artists & Collectors." All are welcome as we'll be taking about issues (in a way that's not lawyer speak) that affect everyone in the tattoo community and beyond. We'll be giving out sample contracts and informative handouts. You'll won't find lawyers offering so much for so little. Best to register in advance and feel free to send questions beforehand.]
It's also best to get your tickets for the show in advance to save some money and beat the lines. I'd recommend booking your rooms early as well before they sell out. Call 800-258-0437 with Code CF1PTG for Keystone Lodge reservations (the Gathering has sold out the New England resort all 4 years).
I'm truly excited for the Gathering and hope to see y'all there!