MRSA Infection in a Tattoo

Oh… that sucks… Erin-Louise got a MRSA-type staph infection in her healing tattoo, an increasingly common infection both in tattoos and injuries in general.

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About Shannon Larratt

Shannon Larratt is the founder of BME (1994) and its former editor and publisher. After a four year hiatus between 2008 and 2012, Shannon is back adding his commentary to ModBlog. It should be noted that any comments in these entries are the opinion of Shannon Larratt and may or may not be shared by LLC or the other staff or members of BME. Entry text Copyright © Shannon Larratt. Reproduced under license by LLC. Pictures may be copyright to their respective owners. You can also find Shannon at Zentastic or on Facebook.

43 thoughts on “MRSA Infection in a Tattoo

  1. Was it linked to the tattoo studio. If so, perhaps it would be helpful to state the name of the studio. While there are other ways to get the infection, cases linked to tattooing were the result of shared needles, non-sterilization of equipment,and even lesions on the tattooist’s hands were found indicative of the infection so the link was clear.

    That’s often the result of going to cheap and unprofessional tattooists unfortunately. I’m not saying that’s the case here however.

  2. MRSA contamination of everything is increasingly common. So much so that here in Las Vegas, for even simple skin infections it’s safer to presume it’s MRSA than plain old easier to kill staph. MRSA was highly feared in the 80s and early 90s and was treated like the most communicable of diseases at hospitals including all of the precautions including gowns, masks, isolation rooms and everything for those people unfortunate enough to have contamination with this bacteria. Now, we don’t actively look for carrier states.

    Scoping the wikipedia article, you’ll see that it’s not hard to kill in vitro (alcohol works fine for instance) but somewhat more difficult in a live person (in vivo). That said, Bactrim which is one of the oldest antibiotics around works well in most cases. Doxycycline will do the trick for people allergic to sulfa.

    Presumably, for Erin-Louise, the doctor in question did do cultures before declaring it MRSA. I always treat like it is here in Vegas because I’ve had too many cultures come back positive to not just assume that it’s going to be resistant but I don’t declare it MRSA just based on appearances. Why? Because you can’t. One staph inspired boil or cellulitis looks pretty much the same as another be it MRSA or MSSA and the only way to know is a culture.

    Given the area, I’d also be concerned about pseudomonas, the sweaty gym shoe bacteria. Pseudamonal infections tend to be pretty distinctive in aroma, though. Unfortunately, it’s different antibiotics to cover for both MRSA and pseudomonas.

    I have no doubt that with the right antibiotics that Erin-Louise will heal well, though the color will probably have to be touched up when all is said and done.

  3. I contracted MRSA in all of the pin sites (where an external fixator was screwed into my hips) and both my lobes.

    Thankfully they just about pulled through but one of them was left pretty damaged.

    I’m getting it fixed soon though!

    When I was told about the infection, two nurses trolloped into my cubicle, threw a couple of leaflets onto my bed, told me I had MRSA and then promptly left.

    I’d read about MRSA so it wasn’t too scary (despite the statistics), but as I was immune compromised you’d have thought they’d have shown more tact.

  4. I recently had an infection from a 2ga inner conch piercing and was misdiagnosed as MRSA when in fact when the cultures came back it was a pseudomona. The first time I went to the ER they didn’t take any cultures, and I was almost left with a permanent disfigurement from it. Hopefully she heals up well and they get her the right antibiotics right away. (I had to go through 4 different ones before they got one that worked)

  5. Travis – I can relate. While I didn’t get an MRSA infection, I did get a staph infection 3 days after I got an industrial. Luckily I had a great doctor who diagnosed it immediately and took really good care of me. I got the whole “if you had come in one day later the cartilage in your ear might have collapsed and it would have ended up looking like michael jackson’s nose” speech though.

    I hope she gets better!

  6. Oh God, definitely Roo. I went to Manchester Hospital one time and it was just disgusting – that was just the corridors, god knows what the wards were like. The little room I was taken to had random cabinets shoved in it (like it was being used for storage space) and what looked to be an overfilled sharps bin. When your local piercing studio is 100 times cleaner than the hospital, you know it’s time to worry.

  7. ahh more common. what are we going to do since vancomicin is the only thing that is going to top this S. aureus

  8. MRSA uused to be found almost exclusively in hospitals and nursing homes, but it’s now getting out into the general community. A person can carry it and have no symptoms or other signs that there is a problem. It can be in the environment and easily transfered to a wound. In hospital, a patient with MRSA must have dedicated equipment (for them only, it can not be used on any other patients untill it’s properly cleaned) and must be kept in isolation until it’s cleared up. Anyone coming into contact with the patient must wear PPE (personal protective equipment) including disposable gowns, gloves and masks. Because of the over crowding in hospitals and the shortage of nurses and support staff, these percautions are not always followed properly. I’ve had many times where I’ve picked up patients only to find out while reading their chart (after I’ve been in contact with them) that they have MRSA. There has not been enough education amongst health care workers and support staff about things like MRSA and CDiff. Many do not understand the importance of protecting themselves (because chances are it won’t make a healthy person sick, but it’s the other patients that suffer.)

  9. My dad lost his leg to MRSA and my grandma died because of the infection.. complications from cancer treatment, got the infection.

  10. Roo-thanks for answering my question. I’m guessing no action is currently being taken to prevent the spread of MRSA? That’s abominable! In any case, I hope she gets better soon!

  11. To a degree, the cow is out of the barn. MRSA is in the community and universal precautions (the old “If it’s wet and not yours don’t touch it”) are actually adequate to prevent the spread most of the time. Wash hands, don’t touch fluids without gloves, that kind of thing. The problem is that it’s an opportunistic infection that’s moderately hard to kill once it sets up shop.

  12. MRSA is both difficult to control and easy to control. On the one hand, it is very easy to kill MRSA that is not currently “infecting” anything. For instance, using rubbing alcohol to clean the skin before a puncture should kill MRSA. However, it is understandably difficult to control the development of S. aureus. How can you tell a bacteria to stop adapting?

    For now, the easiest, cheapest and most effective prevention is to clean areas very carefully before breaking skin and to wear appropriate protection if you’re coming in contact with someone who has open wounds. For instance, tattoo artists not just wearing gloves, but wiping them down with alcohol after putting them on will cut chances of transmission tremendously!

  13. From what I understand about MRSA (been doing quite a bit of research on the subject lately…), the fact that this girl got an infection probably has nothing to do with the tattoo parlor, equipment or artist. Individuals can be asymptomatic carriers of MRSA, and it’s not until you have an open wound (say, like a tattoo, which is basically a diffuse wound) that the bacteria peacefully residing on your skin (like regular staph) has the opportunity to infect you. To repeat what others have said before me, good hygine, hand washing and keeping wounds (including healing tattoos!) covered from the elements and clean can help prevent infection.

  14. It was actually Manuka honey (well, it helped but I can’t attribute it entirely to that) that seemed to help in the end, courtesy of Vampy.

    It was UMF 16 and was applied locally to the pin sites and my lobes, by myself.

    As far as I remember the nurses wouldn’t apply it themselves because, well it was honey.

    A few weeks after starting the ‘treatment’ a fourth swab was taken and it had virtually vanished (from the pin sites and my lobes at least, a large amount of population carry MRSA, in their noses), and that was after two months of crazy antibiotics being pumped into me.

    It’s kind of ironic that I died twice on the operating table only to be revived, but something as daft as MRSA could have almost kicked my bucket :)

  15. UGH! I just got over a skin infection caused by MRSA. Not fun at all. It was on my face near my lip and now I have a big pink scar.

  16. Kinda off topic, but I recently went to the doctor’s for a booster shot and I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow, it’s so much cleaner at a tattoo parlour,” as the nurse was not wearing gloves at all. In all fairness, she did swab me with alcohol.

  17. Maybe it’s a good idea to think about taking antibiotic cover before going in for a tattoo or other mod. I do it when I go to the dentist in case I get exposed to an infectious agent, but then again I’ve had heart surgery before, so the cover is more to protect me from an infection ‘migrating’ to that area.
    I know it’s not good to overdo antibiotics, but just a bit of food for thought, I s’pose.
    Good luck with the healing!

  18. Chaq, excessive use of antibiotics is why we have resistant infectious strains in the first place. While your heart surgery might make you a candidate for prophylactic antibiotics at the dentist, it sounds like it would be a really bad idea for everybody getting a tattoo.

    I think just demanding good shop hygiene — and walking out if it isn’t up to par — is a far better idea.

  19. Manuka Honey seems to work really well on healing wounds and keeping them clear of infection. Here in Australia they now sell a specific type of Manuka Honey as MediHoney for use on burns and open wounds. I have used it a couple of times and it works well.

    Just as an aside when I was at Uni (Microbiology) we were the last class be able to plate out live cultures of MRSA. After three people in our year used the culture swabs to swab their noses the faculty stopped that part of the prac. The students were all immediately sent to hospital and put on some pretty crazy antibiotics. That was in 98 though so I guess times may have changed as the bug got out into the wider community.

  20. Unfortunately, MRSA isn’t boiled down to a simple re-use of tattoo needles. It’s more of an artist not washing his/her hands, disinfecting work areas, processing tubes correctly and so on.

    I’m surprised more cases haven’t already come to light.

  21. When I had my partial thyroidectomy (if ONLY that was an intentional body mod) I got a severe weeks-in-the-hospital MRSA infection. It just about killed me. You just can’t mess around with that.

    FWIW, my doc’s joke about it afterwards was “Damn. Next time I’ll wash my hands!”

    While I did laugh, it wasn’t done at a time I could really find all that humorous.

  22. I would’ve said Tea tree oil for cleaning normal sites but I think large doses of antibiotics taken for their full course would be the way to go for MRSA infections. Although I have heard of phage therapy for super infected ulcerated wounds. Manuka honey tastes good too.

  23. MRSA could have been contracted due to a neglected after care.
    The easiest thing to do is to blame the shop.

  24. about 3 years ago me and my sister went to get tattoos within days we both had very serious mrsa infctions we had big boils softball size under our skin they had to be cut open and drained and lots of very hard to take antibiotics and then to find out i was allergic to the antibiotic it was sulfa based and my sister almost died she had to have surgery and a lengthy hospital stay we know it was from tattoo shop cause we both got it right away and others got it from there to ever since now im on anxiety drugs cause it was so scarey mine was on the back of my neck left a puffy pink scar my sister had 1 on stomach and 2 on her back her scars look like bullet splatter wounds it was the worst for real

  25. I have MRSA from my tattoo as well. lucky me i knew it before it was more than a boil and its not near the ink.

  26. I had MRSA in the 80s,it was misdiognosed as a fungal infection for over a year,I went through alot of pain and was left with arthrtis in many of my joints because of it.Well I got some new ink last night and felt uneasy about the way the guy was doing the work,sure enough I just got back from the emergency room after spotting red lines going up my arm,the Dr. said it was slightly infected and gave me a lock jaw shot and a script for biaxin,my point is if youre getting something like that done and the place or person dont act like they know what they are doing,walk the hell out.Its a whole lot better then sitting around after wondering if your new ink is gone MSRA on you.

  27. hello my name is Brandon and i contracted mrsa by tattooing myself, hahah laugh it up but i was immobile. i couldn’t walk because my knee was the size of a grapefruit and it hurt more than anything i ever felt. i was in the hospital fora week and i had to continue taking i.v antibiotics for another two or three weeks. i was not very sterile and the aftercare was so sketchy its not even funny.

    i understood how that happened but my next tattoo i also contracted mrsa from a professional tattoo which pissed me and my family off. the second time i got it i went to the doctor instead of the e.r and he prescribed me antibiotics and pain meds.the legions on my skin opened up spewing puss and blood so i forced the puss out and sterilized everything a ridiculous amount of times and put multiple band aids cleaning it every day. i appear to be infection free at the moment but these things tend to stick antibiotics were sulfameth/tmp ds and doxycyline hyclate

    hope this helps somebody :)

  28. Medi-Honey rocks!! I have a history of slow healing wounds due to a wacky immune system. I’ve had a couple of ulcerations on my right foot. The one treated with Medi-Honey healed MUCH MUCH quicker than the one it was not used on. If possible, I try to always keep some on hand. I am a MRSA carrier so I am all too familiar with wound care. Thankfully, none of my minor wounds have been actively listed as MRSA. The one that was, was a major one due to cellulitis. That one took a nice sized chunk out of my leg. Scar is about 1-1.5″ wide, 3-4″ long and at least 1/8″ deep though it varies in depth. Mine was hosp. acquired MRSA thanks to a(n intentionally) suppressed immune system. I have a chronic illness that causes my immune system to mistakenly attack my own tissue as an invader. Yay me! Mistakes were made in the combo and dosages of meds used and I paid the price. But, I did what the docs said I wouldn’t (and didn’t do what they predicted) so that’s all that matters! They said I’d not walk again, not live outside of a health care facility again, and they prepared my family to say goodbye to me. Needless to say, I am still alive, living at home, and can walk, even if it is only minimally.

    Of all that my health has taken from me, one thing that bothers me is my ability to get more tats. I have around a dozen I’d love. But being a MRSA carrier, IDK. I’d not blame any artist who refused to work on me.

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