Everyone who gets a tattoo (which is nearly 1 in 4 Americans today) anticipates some degree of pain in the process. Unfortunately, some are finding it more painful than others after developing painful rashes, skin infections and even blood diseases, like hepatitis C from contaminated inks and needles.
Our Charlotte personal injury lawyers understand in the wake of a tattoo ink recall in July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are dialing up the volume of their warnings, as more reports of serious illness emerge.
Let’s start with the most recent recall. It involved inks and needles produced and distributed by a company called White & Blue Lion, Inc., a firm based in Southern California. The company voluntarily pulled its products from the shelves when it became apparent the products tested positive for pathogenic bacterial contamination. The bacteria present in these products has the potential not just to result in severe skin rashes, but also in sepsis, which is a life-threatening condition that happens when the body has an overwhelming immune response to a bacterial infection.
The contaminated inks were sold in all kinds of colors, in 5 ml bottles marked with a multi-colored Chinese dragon, with black-and-white lettering on the label. The contaminated needles were packaged in groups of 5, and have an expiration date of June 2018.
So far, the FDA reports only one illness has been attributed to this contamination. However, there could be others who have fallen sick and not made the connection between the illness and the tattoo. Additionally, the federal regulator has issued warnings indicating a fear the products might still be used by shops and individual artists unaware of the recall. Very few of the recalled products have been returned to the manufacturer.
This incident recalls to mind a similar issue that arose in 2012 in New York, when dozens of people fell ill after receiving tattoos in late 2011. State health officials received a total of 14 reports of serious infection, diagnosed as Mycobacterium chelonea, traced back to a gray ink produced by a single firm. Sporadic infections were also reported in Colorado, Iowa and Washington.
This kind of outbreak is almost certain to happen again, so long as manufacturers and tattoo artists continue to use water that is simply distilled or run through a reverse osmosis system to purify it. This water is then used to dilute the ink in order to create specific shades. However, this process is not sufficient to remove all impurities from the water, which means bacteria is still present. Bacteria that might be killed by stomach acid when swallowed is given a chance to thrive when injected directly into the skin. This is why only sterile water is appropriate for ink dilution in tattooing.
Another issue with tattooing is the rise of the amateur tattoo artist. A study conducted in 2012 by CDC researchers found that tattoos from non-professional artists – family, friends or prison inmates – carry a high risk of the blood-borne liver infection hepatitis C. In the U.S., there are reportedly 18,000 new cases of hepatitis C every year, with most of the spread attributed to heroin users who share needles.However, those who receive tattoos from non-professionals risk potentially being infected by a non-sterile needle. In these situations, it would be difficult to recover damages because the patron assumes the risk of danger by undergoing such a procedure by someone who isn’t licensed. The exception would be if the tattoo artist upheld himself as a licensed professional, when in fact he was not.
The point is not to scare people out of getting a tattoo. The point is to make sure you are an educated consumer. Ask about the inks being used and the dilution process. Ask what brand of inks and needles will be used, and make sure they aren’t under any recent recall. And finally, check that the person you trust with your skin is not only someone with talent, but also a license.
Contact our North Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
Voluntary Nationwide Recall of Tattoo Ink, Tattoo Needles, Tattoo kits Due to Microbial Contamination, July 11, 2014, U.S. Food & Drug Administration
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