SAN DIEGO — Two San Diego County residents who recently got tattoos were diagnosed with a rare bacterial infection linked to contaminated ink, county health officials said Tuesday.
Both residents required treatment for the infection caused by a family of bacteria called nontuberculous Mycobacterium. It was not immediately clear if both had been tattooed by the same person or at the same establishment.
County health officials said the two cases were the first detected locally, although clusters had popped up in other parts of the country.
NTM infection causes itchy red bumps that can progress to abscesses within days to weeks and can result in permanent scarring. The condition does not improve with treatment for common skin infections, and may require use of multiple antibiotics for up to six months.
“People should be aware of the potential for these types of infections before getting a tattoo,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer.
Health officials said the NTM bacteria has been found in contaminated tattoo ink and in the water used to dilute it or create gray areas. Contamination can also happen when the needle is rinsed between colors.
The infection occurs when the area being inked creates an open surface on the skin through which bacteria or other disease-causing organisms can easily enter the body.
The county’s Department of Environmental Health and the Health and Human Services Agency were working with state and federal health officials to investigate the causes of the infections.
County officials said those getting a tattoo should ensure the artist is registered and the shop has a permit; ask questions about hygiene and the tattooing process, and whether sterile water is used to dilute inks and rinse needles; request that the inks and colors used are specifically made for tattooing; and be aware of signs of an infection.
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.