Getting a new tattoo may be an exciting, if extremely painful experience, may it be for individuals with pre-existing ink, or people getting inked for the first time. But it could also be fatal, as reports suggest a 31-year-old man was killed by flesh-eating bacteria just days after taking a swim in the Gulf of Mexico, not long after getting a tattoo.
According to a report from Metro, the 31-year-old man, whose name or nationality was not identified in the British Medical Journal study documenting his case, ignored the common advice not to go swimming within two weeks of getting a new tattoo. After getting inked with a crucifix and a pair of hands praying, the man took a dip in the Gulf of Mexico, but would fall ill soon after he was done taking a swim.
After his ill-fated swim, where he was reportedly infected by flesh-eating bacteria, the man came down with a fever and chills, and also developed a rash. Over the next two days, his condition deteriorated, and by the time he entered a hospital, his leg had turned purple. Due to organ failure, he was placed on life support within one day after admission, and would see his condition improve in the second week of his hospital stay.
However, that turned out to be a false dawn for the unnamed victim, as he succumbed to septic shock and died. Healthline describes septic shock as a potentially life-threatening condition where agents that fight infections in our bodies enter the bloodstream, ultimately causing patients to suffer heart failure, stroke, or organ failures after a “significant” loss of blood pressure.
The Metro report added that there may have been some other factors in the man’s death and infection by flesh-eating bacteria. Doctors who treated the man were said to have found him to be extremely vulnerable to infection, due to his pre-existing cirrhosis of the liver, caused by years of heavy alcohol consumption.
As a report from Health.com documented, there are many potential risks involved when getting a new tattoo. Tattoos, after all, are technically considered open wounds, and may not properly heal for about two weeks. Even good health, unlike in the above-mentioned case of the man who was infected, and eventually killed by flesh-eating bacteria, isn’t enough to protect one from being attacked by bacteria that may use a new tattoo as an entry point.
“Generally, tattoos are not dangerous at all,” said Lenox Hill Hospital dermatologist Michele Green, as quoted by Health.com.
“But, of course, it’s a fresh wound. It’s a breach of the skin.”
Talking about the above case, where the man was infected by the flesh-eating bacteria known as Vibrio vulnificus, Green added that there are other infections that may put people at risk after getting new tattoos. These include staph infections, which can be similarly dangerous, as well as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tetanus, or any other infection that may be caused by a procedure involving needles. Likewise, tattoos could cause reactions in people allergic to dyes and inks used in the process.
All told, the case of the man who died after swimming in the Gulf of Mexico days after his new tattoo could be a good cautionary tale. But it doesn’t mean people should avoid getting inked, as long as they follow proper safety procedures and get tattooed by a reputable, licensed artist. Green suggests that people leave the bandage on one day after getting tattooed, and use a topical antibiotic ointment to treat the tattoo afterwards. She also warned that people shouldn’t swim right after getting inked, may it be in a swimming pool, the sea, or in hot tubs where flesh-eating bacteria and other microbes may possibly lurk.
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