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NTM Infections Caused by Contaminated Tattoo Ink
What is NTM?
According to the FDA, a bacteria family known as nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) has been found in contaminated tattoo ink. One strain of this bacteria, M. chelonae, has been shown to cause infections in the organs and joints as well as problems with the eyes. Since infection by contaminated inks is rare, it is often overlooked or downplayed as a something else. As tattoos increase in popularity, the number of cases of infections from contaminated inks may be reported. In an article by the Associated Press, 22 confirmed cases and more than 30 suspected cases have been linked to tattoos received in Iowa, Colorado, New York, and Washington in the last 2 years. This number could increase as tattoo shops are becoming more aware of what to look for and report any known cases.
How does the ink become contaminated?
Even in the most prestigious, upscale shops--inks can be contaminated. Bacteria can be introduced to an ink sample through tap water. Dark inks are oftened lightened by adding water, which needs to be sterile. Ink pigments and components can pick up bacteria, mold, or fungi in the manufacturing process. Unsterile instruments and work surfaces are sources of bacteria introduction. In addition to sterilizing tools, equipment, and facilities--all unused ink from a session should be disposed. Tattoo shops should also check the ink's expiration date and discard any product past its date.
The CDC reported unopened bottles of pre-diluted gray ink contained the same strain of NTM that caused 14 infections in New York.
What do I do if I think I have an infection?
If you recently received a tattoo and notice these symptoms around the area:
- Red, blistered rash
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of appetite
- Loss of energy
You should immediately seek medical attention and report your symptoms and/or diagnosis to your tattoo artist. The shop should report your case to the FDA or CDC. Your doctor should treat you with antibiotics that should clear up the infection.