2 in San Diego diagnosed with tattoo-linked infection

SAN DIEGO - Two people in San Diego have contracted a bacterial skin infection that was likely caused by getting a tattoo, the first such case ever recorded in the county.

The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) reported Tuesday that the two patients were diagnosed with nontuberculous Mycobacterium (NTM).

NTM is often found in contaminated tattoo ink, as well as the water used to dilute the ink to create gray areas of the tattoo. It can also occur when the needle is rinsed between colors.

The infection causes itchy red bumps, and can progress to abscesses within days or weeks of getting the tattoo. According to HHSA, the infection does not improve with common treatment, and can require antibiotics for up to six months. In the worst cases, permanent scarring can occur.

HHSA, the Department of Environmental Health and state and federal officials are investigating.

County health officials have the following tips for those considering a tattoo:

  • Make sure the artist is registered and the shop has a permit from DEH.
  • Ask the artist any questions you have about hygiene and the tattooing process -- the artist should willingly and comfortably answer them for you.
  • Request inks and colors that are specifically made for tattooing, not for other purposes.
  • Ask if the tattoo artist uses sterile water for diluting inks and rinsing needles -- this is not required by State regulations, but is a DEH Guideline to help prevent infection.
  • Be aware of signs of an infection after getting a tattoo -- they include redness, heat, swelling or pus on or around the tattoo.

Tattoo-related infections or problems can be reported to the DEH Epidemiology Liaison by calling 858-505-6814 or sending an email to Epidemiology.FHD@sdcounty.ca.gov.

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