Cutaneous inoculation of nontuberculous mycobacteria during professional tattooing: a case series and epidemiologic study

Clin Infect Dis. 2013 Sep;57(6):e143-7. doi: 10.1093/cid/cit347. Epub 2013 May 23.


Background: The increase in popularity of tattoos has coincided with an increase in reports of cutaneous inoculation of nontuberculous (atypical) mycobacteria (NTM) during the tattooing process. We report 3 NTM infections in otherwise healthy persons who received tattoos, which prompted a multiagency epidemiologic investigation.

Methods: Tattoo artists involved were contacted and interviewed regarding practices, ink procurement and use, and other symptomatic clients. Additional patients were identified from their client lists with an Internet survey.

Results: Thirty-one cases of suspected or confirmed NTM inoculation from professional tattooing were uncovered, including 5 confirmed and 26 suspected cases. Clinical biopsy specimens from 3 confirmed infections grew Mycobacterium abscessus strains that were indistinguishable by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis testing. Another 2 skin specimens grew Mycobacterium chelonae, which also grew from a bottle of graywash ink obtained from the tattoo artist.

Conclusions: The pathogenicity and antibiotic resistance patterns of certain NTM isolates highlight the importance of correct diagnosis and potential difficulty in treating infections. Enforcement of new standards for the regulation and use of tattoo inks should be considered.

Keywords: antibiotic resistance; nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM); tattoo.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Antitubercular Agents / therapeutic use
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Ink
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / epidemiology
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / etiology*
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / microbiology
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / transmission*
  • Nontuberculous Mycobacteria / drug effects
  • Nontuberculous Mycobacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Skin Diseases, Bacterial / epidemiology
  • Skin Diseases, Bacterial / etiology*
  • Skin Diseases, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Tattooing / adverse effects*
  • Washington / epidemiology


  • Antitubercular Agents