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So Your Tattoo Is Infected

Tattoos become much less appealing when they're infected. It's like when my friend Mitch got his eyebrow pierced in high school, which was obviously an attempt to look tough, but it ended up getting a huge, unsightly scab. Because he kept picking at the scab in his sleep, it simply refused to heal. For about six months he had to carry a handkerchief with him because it would ooze blood. He rarely noticed the oozing until it had dripped down into his eye, so he had to rely on the averted gazes of the others in order to presume that he needed some cleanup.

Ultimately, that made Mitch look unkempt and the opposite of tough: susceptible to injury. It didn't help that the embarrassment often made him cry. But getting a tattoo infection shouldn't be looked at as a sign of weakness. It turns out it might not even be a sign that the tattoo parlor you went too was jacked-up, skeezed-out, or otherwise illegitimate.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports today that in recent months there have been outbreaks of a specific type of tattoo-related infection. The bacteria, nontuberculous mycobacterium (a relative of TB), has been traced to infected ink. Inks may pick up bacteria when they are diluted with tap water , or when needles are handled in non-sterile ways, and that's what they originally thought was happening. But it turns out that the bacteria has been found even in sealed ink containers, suggesting that tattoo ink production facilities may not always be the bastions of sterility we once presumed.

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