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Is a tattoo infected?

October 29, 2019
Mitch DirksonMitch Dirkson
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Having a tattoo can often lead to minor inflammation. However, depending on the circumstances, there may also be a risk of infection and other types of reaction. According to a 2017 survey, 40% of people aged 18–69 years old in the United States have at least one tattoo. Furthermore, 1 in 4 of those with tattoos have several, while another 19% were thinking of getting a tattoo. A 2016 studyTrusted Source that looked at the risk of infection with tattoos found that 0.5–6% of adults who had a tattoo experienced infectious complications. If a tattoo causes severe symptoms or pain that lasts for more than a few days, it can be a sign that there is an infection that needs medical attention. Find out with this article about infections and tattoo reactions, prevention tips, and what to do if one or the other happens.

When a person has a tattoo from a licensed, reputable tattoo artist in a salon setting, they may experience some pain, redness, and swelling. As the tattoo heals, itching may occur. With basic care and good hygiene, most new tattoos heal within a few weeks, but some people may develop an infection that requires medical attention. Injecting ink introduces substances to the body that it does not usually encounter. Whether these are the ink components or bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens, there is a risk of an infection or reaction.

Some of these pathogens respond to antibiotics, but some do not. If a person develops an infection and does not seek medical help, it can lead to complications, such as deeper infections, and in rare cases, sepsis, which can be life threatening. Anyone who has signs of an infection, including a fever and chills, should see a doctor.

In some cases, using contaminated ink or ink that is diluted with unsterilized water can lead to an infection. One outbreak, which surfaced in January 2012, involved the bacteria Mycobacterium chelonae, a cause of skin and soft tissue infections. It affected 19 people in various U.S. states. Symptoms included a persistent rash with redness, swelling, and papules in the tattoo area. In this case, various artists had used a prediluted ink that had contamination in it before they purchased it.

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