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California Company Recalls Tattoo Ink, Needles due to Risk of Potentially Deadly Bacterial Infection

Jul 21, 2014

A bacterial contamination has prompted a California company to recall all of its tattoo ink and needles. According to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recall notice, White & Blue Lion, based in the city of Industry, California is recalling the products nationwide.

Testing by the FDA laboratory has confirmed bacterial contamination of both needles and ink. The agency warns that use of these products can lead to sepsis, a potentially-fatal complication of an infection.

In 2012, the Associated Press reported an outbreak of infected tattoos from tainted ink. In the largest outbreak, 19 people in Rochester, NY experienced bubbly rashes on their new tattoos. Tattoo infections are not a new issue, but they are usually tied to unsanitary conditions and dirty needles. Investigators had found that the Rochester infections were tied to the ink when the cases were linked to an artist who wore disposable gloves and sterilized his tools. "Even if you get a tattoo from a facility that does everything right, it's not risk free," Dr. Byron Kennedy, deputy director of the health department in New York's Monroe County had said to AP.

There have been some scattered reports of tattoo infections over the past decade or so, but experts suspect that they may be more commonplace as tattoos become increasingly popular. Health officials said there were 22 confirmed cases and 30 suspected cases of skin infection in Colorado, Iowa, New York and Washington state in 2012. The cases were either linked to ink or water used to dilute the ink. The bacteria causing the infections, Mycobacterium chelonae, is a cousin to tuberculosis. Exposure can lead to painful pus-filled blisters. It can take months to go away, and require treatment with harsh antibiotics that have undesirable side effects.

Tara MacCannell, who led a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation about tainted tattoos, had said that some manufacturers add witch hazel or alcohol preservative to reduce the risk of viruses, but this does little to kill off the chelonae bacteria. In the New York parlor, MacCannell said both opened and unopened bottles were contaminated.

Customers who are getting tattoos should ask what kind of ink is being used and what measures are in place to prevent infection, health officials said.

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