The girl with the iron tattoo

Virulence. 2012 Nov 15;3(7):599-600. doi: 10.4161/viru.22122. Epub 2012 Oct 17.


We describe a young woman with profound anemia whose serum iron studies were incongruous with what we expected from iron deficiency anemia. Her high serum iron was not fully explainable until we examined the patient and noticed a large black tattoo on her left flank area. Apparently iron oxide in the ink used for the tattoo was absorbed transcutaneously and led to high serum iron in the face of the other data, which suggested iron deficiency. She was slow in mobilizing her serum iron for erythropoiesis and we discovered that there was a concurrent acute B19 parvovirus infection, which impeded utilization of the iron for red blood cell production. We believe that this case report reinforces the imperative to always do a careful physical examination with any patient who has anemia, and also illustrates the potential toxicity of tattoo ink. The impairment of utilization of the serum iron because of the patient's acute B19 parvovirus infection demonstrates the many consequences of infection induced aplastic anemia.

Keywords: anemia; aplastic anemia; iron deficiency; parvovirus B12; viral infection.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anemia, Aplastic / complications
  • Anemia, Aplastic / diagnosis*
  • Anemia, Aplastic / etiology
  • Anemia, Aplastic / pathology
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / complications
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / diagnosis*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / etiology
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iron / blood*
  • Parvoviridae Infections / complications*
  • Parvoviridae Infections / virology
  • Parvovirus B19, Human / isolation & purification*
  • Serum / chemistry
  • Tattooing*


  • Iron