A good friend called me a few days back and asked if you needed to get a Tetanus injection after getting a tattoo. I was appalled to learn that his brother had given himself a tattoo using a needle and pen ink. Now, that’s what a lot of young adolescents do at their age right? But, they need to be informed of the potential for infection or other harmful effects through these actions.
Tattoos or Piercings have been practiced in the world since ancient times in many cultures all over. We can still meet old ladies of various communities in Nepal who have these inks printed on their hands and legs and many with multiple piercings in their ears or nose. Many cultures around the world had these traditions with an esthetic appeal to it. Some with ornamental values, some with religious, cultural and some to do with being authoritarian or showing status.
Today, this culture is rife amongst the teenagers, youngsters and others as well. Some take this as having an esthetic appeal, some to declare their autonomy, freedom, something to last a lifetime, for someone special or many other reasons. But nonetheless this is practiced widely in today’s world.
These will always be beautiful and something that makes one feel that they own their body or carry other messages to people BUT what is different today from the good old days, i.e. in the 21st century is much more diseases have emerged than the old days. And especially the infectious diseases, which in some cases could even ruin lives. So, being cautious and taking precautions when getting a tattoo or piercing is mandatory.
Tattooing simply put is a process where the needle containing the ink or pigments pierces the skin and deposits it in the dermis (the lower layer of the skin). The pigment then is ingested by defense cells and following a few physiological processes gets deposited in the dermis. So, this as well as piercings carry a potential for any infectious agents to be deposited in these sites and thus cause infection.
The reported infections due to tattooing and piercings include Viral infections such as hepatitis, AIDS, and cutaneous infections, Bacterial infections such as impetigo, toxic shock syndrome, tetanus, tuberculosis and leprosy, Fungal infections such as sporotrichosis and zygomycosis. Also, Allergic reactions such as cutaneous irritation and urticaria, granulomatous and lichenoid reactions, lymphadenopathy have been reported. Additionally, tattooing and piercing has been related to high risk taking behaviors in adolescents and the youth.
I would like to stress that this post in no way means to discourage anyone who is enthusiastic about getting a tattoo or a piercing. I for one don’t have one but know of a few good pals who do and they are doctors, engineers, teachers and doing very good. This is just a reminder that prudence might save you a lot of trouble. This post is specifically meant for people who might be thinking of amateur tattooing which carries an increased risk of infection by the use of unsterilized equipment and contaminated ink. So it will be good if you don’t try it yourself or ask anyone untrained to do it. It’s best to go to a trained professional for the job. Things to observe in forehand would be to check that the tattooist uses fresh gloves and washes hands, uses freshly unpacked needles and ink for new customers and proper sterilization techniques for instruments that are non disposable between each customer and procedure. The proper adherence by the tattooist to universal precautions, working with disposable equipments and properly sterilizing their instruments will definitely reduce the risk of the potential infections.