MRSA, it’s our new boogyman. Staph is all over every surface in our homes, even on our skin. It’s a common bacteria and lots of people get staph infections, from scratches, scrapes, cuts, surgical work, tattoos, you name it- if there’s a break in the skin or an injury, staph infections can happen. (Keeping a new wound or injury clean by washing with anti-microbial liquid soaps is a good start to preventing this, by the way. This is key with fresh tattoos or other abrasions, especially.)
When staph becomes resistant to antibiotics, it’s a nasty thing. MRSA spreads quickly, and it can kill you. Most people get MRSA from hospitals and doctor’s offices or dentists. This is because when disinfectants are used regularly and antibiotics are present in an environment, other kinds of bacteria die off, leaving MRSA to rule the field. More than 2/3 of fatal MRSA infections are caused by surgery.
Older people are more likely to get MRSA. MRSA can eat away your skin, fat, and muscle. It can spread to your lungs (especially if you’ve been intubated) and give you fatal pneumonia.
The fact that it’s resistant to antibiotics is what sets MRSA apart from other bacterial infections. Usually doctors will give people high doses of incredibly strong antibiotics, cut away as much infected tissue as they safley can, keep the wound clean, and hope for the best. Hope for the best? Yeah, that’s actually part of the treatment. Scary shit, right?
A new bit of research shows promise- treating MRSA with a dye, that then reacts to a certain frequency of light. This is a better treatment because unlike antibiotics (to which bacteria can eventually get resistance-like MRSA did) the bacteria can’t really become resistant to mechanical treatment. It’s like the difference between getting sick from a poison, to which you can build up tolerance, and getting sick because someone cut your lungs out. You can’t exactly build up resistance to injury…so mechanical methods of treating MRSA, like light treament, arer maybe a better strategy to treat it.
Now as regards tattoos and MRSA- it’s just as likely that you’ll get staph or another bacterial infection from a tattoo, as from any other abrasive injury. Road rash, brushburn, tattoos- they all open up your skin. When you get tattooed, you should get a care sheet from the artsit. READ IT and FOLLOW IT. Usually they’ll tell you to wash the tattoo and keep it open to the air. That’s because oxygen helps your skin heal more quickly, than occluding the wound. The faster your skin heals, the less time it spends being able to come in contact with bacteria, and the less chance of an infection.
I’ve not seen a case of a tattoo getting MRSA. This could be because tattoo injury is a smaller-scale injury than surgery would be, or because tattoo studios, while cleaned daily, are not subject to the same set of protocols that make hospitlas the breeding ground for this bacteria. Whatever the reason, I’ve not yet seen a tattoo infected with MRSA. I have seen several people who have tattoos contract MRSA from other wounds. It’s pretty nasty-looking and seems really painful.
What I have seen, fairly often, is a common staph infection. Some things I’ve learned, from talking to the people with them, is that the following are common among people who’ve gotten staph in a tattoo:
- Pet ownership- if you have pets, wash your sheets the day before you get tattooed. Pet dander can have staph on it, and pet dander gets everywhere in the house.
- Kids- wash your hands after touching your kids, and before you touch your tattoo. Kids get into everything. Seriously.
- Activity and exercise- Wash off your weights, your bike and bike seat, etc. Your own sweat on these things can give staph a breeding ground, and when you touch these surfaces and then touch your tattoo it can bring staph to the surface.
- Clothing- Clean clothes. Skin cells and sweat on your clothing can allow staph to survive. Wear only clean clothes over a fresh tattoo.
Almost every time I have seen a staph infection in someone’s tattoo, it can be traced back to one of these causes. The few exceptions usually are related to them as well- petting the dog while you put your shirt on. Toting your bike down the stairs, then stopping to pull up your pants leg (which then rests on the tattoo). Try to be very conscious, especially the first few days, of what will be touching the tattoo. Keep it clean!
If you think you have staph (here’s a symptom list) don’t delay- go see a doctor. They can cure staph, now, and they can treat MRSA. If you or someone you know works in a hospital, nursing home, hospice, or dentist office, be even more careful. Know your body and be aware of how it’s responding to healing. If you had surgery recently wait until your wounds have healed completely before you get tattooed. Give your body time to do its work. And wash your hands!
There’s no need for paranoia, though. Of the 50,000 tattoos I have seen healing, I have probably seen ten or twenty staph infections, which means that if you follow instructions it’s very unlikely that you’ll need to do anything else to heal just fine.