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Infections From Tattoos Spark FDA Warnings

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 23, 2012

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is ramping up warnings for hospital and physician providers to be alert for hard-to-treat raised skin rashes stemming from contaminated tattoo inks after a 19-person outbreak in New York, the fourth state to be impacted in recent years.

The alert, issued in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, stems from an article in the same issue by public health officials in Rochester, NY. Officials discovered 19 tattoo parlor patrons were infected with Mycobacterium chelonae infections after receiving tattoos from a single shop in that city last fall.

Public health officials were alerted to the problem by a local dermatologist who said one of his patients had first sought care for the rash on his arm through another physician, who treated him unsuccessfully with a corticosteroid, and then referred him. The dermatologist did a skin biopsy to determine the infection.

Public health officials were then able to track back to the manufacturer of the batches of ink, purchased from a supplier in Arizona, and found that unopened bottles of ink contained the M. chelonae. The tattoo artist relinquished his client list, and 18 more customers were discovered to have similar rashes.

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