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Skin Infections Linked to Tattoo Ink

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 11, 2011

Doctors and hospitals that treat difficult chronic skin infections should be aware of tattoos on patients, Seattle researchers suggest.

In a report published in this month's issue of the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jeffrey S. Duchin, and colleagues at the University of Washington say they found two cases of Mycobacterium haemophilum infection, a type of bacteria that usually affects only patients with damaged immune systems.

The infections showed up as chronic blotches and weeping ulcers on the skin and were unresponsive to routine antibiotics such as ceftriaxone and trimethoprim sulfamethoxazole, Duchin explained in a telephone interview.

He is unaware of other cases so far, but said that such infections may be hard to identify when they turn up in otherwise healthy adults. Infection with this type of bacteria, which is commonly found in the environment, had not previously been found in patients' tattoos.

Duchin said these cases were caught because the two patients, who did not know each other, went to the same tattoo parlor and by coincidence sought care from the same physician who reported it to public health officials. The infection ran along the lines of the tattoos, so Duchin says "it definitely went in with the ink."

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