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Flesh eating bacteria kills man after he gets a tattoo. Here’s how you can be safe

A US man died after he didn’t take the necessary precautions after getting tattooed. Here’s a checklist to keep in mind if you are thinking of getting inked any time soon.

fitness Updated: Jun 04, 2017 12:56 IST
Susan Jose
Susan Jose
Hindustan Times
Tattoos,Side Effects Of Tattoos,Wellness Trends
A recent study by Alma College, Michigan, USA, stated that tattoos affect the sweat glands in the skin.(Anshuman Poyrekar/HT Photo)

If you love tattoos, this is like your worst nightmare coming true. A 31-year-old man in the US died after his tattoo became infected with flesh-eating bacteria that live in ocean water, according to a new report published in the journal BMJ Case Reports. He ignored common advice to avoid swimming for a few weeks after getting a new tattoo, and went for a swim in the Gulf of Mexico just five days after getting inked in his leg.

According to a report in PTI, the man developed a fever and chills a few days later, and his skin became red over his tattoo and on other parts of his legs. The red, painful lesions on his legs turned purple soon after he arrived at the hospital, and developed large blisters filled with fluid. Doctors suspected he had an infection with Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria that lives in warm coastal waters.

Experts suggest that those who wish to get a tattoo, “must weigh in the pros and cons” that come with tattooing. ( Shutterstock )

In rare cases, the bacteria can enter the body through an open wound, destroy tissue and cause life-threatening bloodstream infections. The man also previously suffered from alcoholic cirrhosis -- a liver disease related to drinking alcohol which is known to increase the risk of V vulnificus infection. He was treated with antibiotics, and after further treatment in the hospital, his condition began to improve. However, it worsened soon, and about two months later, he died due to complications related to liver damage, kidney failure and destroyed tissue in his skin lesions, the report said.

The incident reinforces the need to be careful when you decide to get inked. A recent study by Alma College, Michigan, USA, stated that tattoos affect the sweat glands in the skin. Therefore, heavily tattooed people may face health issues. We spoke to city doctors to understand the concerns with regards to tattoos.

According to experts, if you suffer from high blood pressure, avoid getting a tattoo as the pain while getting inked can raise the BP. ( Shutterstock )

“Whether the long-term health is affected by tattooing is unclear. However, if a large area of the body is tattooed — affecting the secretion of the sweat glands — there may be thermoregulatory problems when exposed to high heat and heavy work. This is because sweat glands help in balancing thermoregulation,” says Dr Apratim Goel, dermatologist and laser surgeon, Cutis Skin Studio. She adds, “This study is based on data from just 10 people and more research needs to be done on the subject.”

Dr Anand Mishra, internal medicine specialist, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi – A Fortis Network Hospital, suggests that those who wish to get a tattoo, “must weigh in the pros and cons” that come with tattooing. He elaborates, “Tattooing involves permanently placing ink around 3 to 5mm under the skin, the same depth as our sweat glands, hence destroying them. This causes a person to sweat less. As far as possible, permanent tattoos should be avoided, as there is a risk of transmitting dangerous diseases if appropriate aseptic precautions are not taken.”

As per experts, people in the following categories must steer clear of tattoos:

1. Those with high blood pressure, as the pain can raise the blood pressure temporarily.

2. The blood sugar level may rise as the tattoo is being done. Those with diabetes should avoid certain areas of their body such as buttocks, and common insulin injection sites including arms, abdomen, thighs, feet and ankles. For them, healing can be a long process.

3. Those who are allergic to makeup such as eyeshadow and lipstick. They should consult their dermatologist before getting tattooed as they are likely to be allergic to the dye.

4. Those under the influence of alcohol or drugs or have put on weight during pregnancy, as it can affect the appearance of the tattoo.

5. Those on anticoagulants (blood thinners) or long-term use of aspirin or ibuprofen, which can reduce clotting time. This can cause increased bleeding and bruising, while getting tattooed. It may affect the implantation of the pigment and the healing time.

6. Individuals with hypertension, heart conditions and on immune-suppressive medication should also seek medical advice first.

7. Individuals with chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and vitiligo (leucoderma) should also be cautious and seek advice from their dermatologist.

8. Those who have blood disorders such as haemophilia, sickle-cell anaemia or any platelet disorder.

9. Keloid or hypertrophic scarring — any person who has a tendency for this type of scarring should also first consult a doctor.

10. Pregnant and lactating mothers.

11. Those who have any active infection.

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Checklist before tattooing:

1. The tattoo studio and its staff should be very clean and should practice strictest measures of asepsis and hygiene at all times.

2. The studio should have an autoclave for sterilisation of instruments.

3. All disposable items like needles should be opened from their seal packs in front of you.

4. Procedure should be performed with sterile gloves.

“One should make sure that the quality of the tattoo dye is good because few tattoo dyes can cause skin reactions that can occur even after many years of getting inked,” says functional medicine expert Seema Saadikha.

Post-tattoo care:

1. Do not scratch the tattooed area or pull the scabs off.

2. Apply an antibiotic cream on the area with clean hands.

3. Remove the bandage after 24 hours. Keep the tattooed area clean. Use plain water and soap to clean the tattoo. Pat it dry.

4. Keep the area sun protected.

5. Avoid tight-fitted clothes.

6. Do not swim or take steam until the area heals completely.

7. Avoid heavy workouts and stretching of the tattooed skin until it has healed fully.

Warning signs to watch out for:

“Infection and allergic reactions to the tattoo pigments are the two main risks to be watched out for. Pain and redness for the initial few days is expected, but if pain, redness and swelling persists one should be alert. See your dermatologist if you have fever or if the tattooed area is puffed up, itchy and oozy,” says Dr Maithili Kamat, consultant dermatologist, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre.

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The author tweets@iamsusanjose

First Published: Apr 17, 2017 18:57 IST