Five days after getting a tattoo on his right calf, and after warnings not to go swimming post-tattoo, a 31-year-old man died after he contracted a flesh-eating bacteria in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Now, in a new case study, doctors are reminding people to avoid swimming after getting inked. Your skin is an open wound without any protection after getting a tattoo, artists warn. They often call for staying away from any type of water – aside from showers – for about two to three weeks.
That means no swimming in public pools, open waters or even in the hot tub. Chlorine is bad for your sensitive skin, while bacteria could infect your healing skin.
“We present a case of Vibrio vulnificus septic shock and cellulitis in a patient with chronic liver disease that occurred after obtaining a leg tattoo with subsequent seawater exposure in the Gulf of Mexico,” the researchers wrote.
“The case highlights the association of chronic liver disease and high mortality associated with infections of V. vulnificus. Health providers should remain vigilant for infections in patients with chronic liver disease and raw oyster ingestion or seawater exposure,” they warned.
The 31-year-old man from Texas in the case study got a tattoo on his right leg of a cross with hands in prayer. Below the images were the words, “Jesus is my life.”
Days after, he went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. Two days later, he was gravely ill with a fever and chills. His leg was swollen and covered in rashes – it was contaminated with a flesh-eating bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus.
He made it to the emergency room, where doctors learned he was already grappling with cirrhosis, a liver disease marked by excessive drinking. The report says the patient was drinking about six 12-ounce bottles of beer daily.
Ultimately, the doctors fed the man an antibiotic regimen to try to kill the bacteria. He was placed on life support as his body went into septic shock.
After two months in hospital, the patient died. His kidneys failed, he was battling liver disease and the skin lesions from the flesh-eating bacteria had spread.
The silver lining? Catching this particular flesh-eating disease is incredibly rare through open wounds like a tattoo, the study suggests. It’s the leading cause of death tied to seafood consumption in the United States though, according to one organization.
Fewer than five per cent of cases of severe illness from the bug are in healthy people, the study said. Keep in mind, this patient also had liver disease working against his immune system.
Read the full case study here.