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.
I beat the NY snow and made it to Detroit for the 15th Annual Motor City Tattoo Expo, so while I run around and stalk legends like Jack Rudy, Brian Everett and Tom Renshaw -- among so many other great artists -- I'm handing over the blogging reigns to readers for the rest of the week and have them tell ya about their tattoos.
Tattoos like this Russian revolutionary piece on Justin Frey by Richie Vomit of Siouxicide City Tattoos in Iowa. What I find particularly interesting about this tattoo is that it's a tribute to his wife. Instead of, say, getting her name tattooed on his neck, he decided to go the artful route and have a piece created to honor her birthplace.
I should just let Justin tell the story. Here's what he said:
"I decided to go with a Russian theme because my wife is a Russian. She grew up in Ulyanovsk, which is Lenin's birthplace. When she went home last year to finish up her final university term, I decided to surprise her with somewhat of a tribute to her people. I brought a couple of drawings to Richie Vomit and told him some of my ideas. I was very vague -- which I know tends to make life difficult for artists -- but Richie really took the project and ran with it, and the end result turned out to be amazing.
Starting off 2010 with a mega-news review, from tattooed skin bags to more eyeball tattooing.
In perhaps the most creepy cool headline we've read in a while, a pocket-book from the 1800s made of human skin -- which was tattooed -- was found in a flea market (car boot sale) in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, UK. According to the Daily Mail (which published the photograph above):
"The skin is believed have been taken off the back of a man who was executed after he tried to shoot a British major in the first Chinese Opium War of 1839."
The skin eventually came off the pocket-book and was then preserved in oil in a bottle, which was how it was sold at the market to a Dorset historian. Clues to its original ownership are found in a letter with the bag, which traces its origin to the Egerton family. In 1901, one family member alluded to the skin in her memoir: "Behind the green and beige doors of the bookcase of my mother's bedroom was one of the most gruesome of all her possessions." Read more on the history and details of the tattoos in the article.
The tattoo news that garnered the most headlines in the US surround parents who gave six of their under-age kids home tattoos and were subsequently arrested. The Georgia couple used the typical jail-house method of taking a pen tube, guitar wire and electric motor to tattoo small crosses on their kids' hands. The parents' defense, "They wanted it. They asked me." They're charged with three counts each of illegal tattooing, second degree child cruelty and reckless conduct. They may soon find out what a real prison tattoo looks like.
And speaking of jailhouse tattoos...
Idiot inmates tattooing their eye balls does not make for a trend, HipHop Wired!
In 2007, Modblog first wrote about the eyeball tattooing of three bod mod practitioners. The post began with this caveat: "Warning: This entry documents a highly experimental procedure that should not be emulated." It also stated that it was extensively researched and meant as an experiment. Afterward, mainstream media called eyeball tattooing a "dangerous trend" even though there were no reports of others doing it. This is the first report since then. It raises the question whether these inmates were inspired by the Modblog post or decided to do it on their own without any information (the former was an argument against publishing the procedure). Of course, there's the question of whether we will see more extreme forms of the art and legitimize the trend label now that tattooing losing its badass stigma. As for trends, I'd rather see MC Hammer pants come back in style.
In tattoo law news ...
On New Year's day, a new tattoo law in Iowa went into effect that requires tattoo studios and artists to keep records on every client they tattoo for at least three years. Specifically, shops & artists must record every client's name, birth date, photocopy of his or her driver's license or birth certificate, date of the procedure, artist's name and client's signature.The question raised here: Is it a burden to the artists and violation of the client's privacy, or is it a measure to protect artists from potential suits? Considering that the tattoo design is not part of the record requirement -- police have indeed used tattoo records against accused -- I believe the law does greater good than harm, especially in light of the increasing law suits and criminal investigations against studios for tattooing minors. By copying the drivers license, studios can instantly prove that they checked ID (they're not asked to decipher whether an ID is fake). This is a deterrent to minors seeking a tattoo but also lawsuits from angry parents. As many, if not most, professional studios keep records, the burden seems to be minimal. Do you think the law is fair? Feel free to add your thoughts to the comments section.
And while we're on the law, I wanted to point out again that local bans against studios still exist even if state law permits them, but city councils are finally coming around across the US and re-examining their bans like in Jefferson City, MO. I'll say it again and again, the best way to combat tattoo bans and heavy handed laws is to vote for the right council people or run yourself.
In "this is a bad idea" news ...
In Chicago, a mom opens up a tattoo school in memory of her dead son. Whatever the motivation, I still think these tattoo schools are a bad idea, especially under a women who says things like this: "Baron said students need not worry about possessing artistic skills, " and remarks that apprenticeships can cost up to $10,000. Anyone hear of that? One of her greatest lessons should be how to deal with the taunting and laughter from studios once students try to find work with their "tattoo degree."
In this profile on Doug Phillips of Torture Chamber Tattoos in central NY, the best argument against tattoo schools is offered by Mike Hynes
[Correction: Bill Pogue at "The World's Only Tattoo School" in LA apprenticed Phillips. See the comments for further clarification.]
Mark Moford of the SF Chronicle agrees with Phillips in his essay on young tattoo collectors and their bad choices:
"...I couldn't help but look down and realize she had something inscribed high up on the back of her neck, just beneath the hairline.
Yes, something must be done.
In dirty but maybe not so quick links ...
phew. I'm done.