A 31-year-old man has died from contracting an infection after receiving a tattoo of a cross, praying hands, and the words “Jesus is my life” written in cursive.BMJ Case Reports, a prominent, peer-reviewed medical journal, identified the man only as a Latino living in Texas.
Ignoring advice for care of new tattoos, the man went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico five days after getting his tattoo and before the wound had healed. Three days later, he was admitted to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas after reporting fever, chills, severe pain in his legs and feet, and redness around his tattoo.
“A lot of our patients, when they come to our institution, come in sick—and he was certainly among the sicker of the patients that we’ve had come in,” said Dr. Nicholas Hendren, an internal medicine resident at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and lead author of the report. “He said he had a lot of pain in [his right leg]. That, of course, drew our attention right away.
“Within a few hours, things had progressed pretty quickly,” Hendren said. “He was already in the early stages of septic shock, and his kidneys had already had some injury,” Hendren said. “Very quickly, his septic shock progressed from early stages to severe stages very rapidly, within 12 hours or so, which is typical for this type of infection.”
The man’s condition was worsened by his habit of drinking six 12-ounce beers a day which had led to chronic liver disease. His treatment included being placed on a ventilator and taking potent antibiotics.
A test confirmed that the man had been infected by Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium commonly found in coastal ocean water. According to the CDC, the vibriosis infection causes 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths annually in the United States. Risk factors include liver disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV and thalassemia, a rare blood disorder. Most healthy people who contract the infection only experience vomiting and diarrhea.
“In the USA, most serious infections appear to occur with the ingestion of raw oysters along the Gulf Coast, as nearly all oysters are reported to harbor vulnificus during the summer months and 95% of cases were related to raw oyster ingestion,” the report noted.
But “Infections can also occur with exposure of open wounds to contaminated salt or brackish water; however, this represents an uncommon mechanism of infection.”
The man remained in the hospital under treatment for approximately two months, but ultimately died of septic shock.
Hendren said that he is not cautioning people against getting tattoos.
“It’s if you choose to get a tattoo, do it safely, do it through a licensed place, and make sure you take care of the wound and treat it like any other wound,” he said. “That’s important.”
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