Bacterial Infection in Middlebury Could be Related to Unlicensed Tattoos

For Immediate Release: August 22, 2005

Media Contact: Communication Office
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON – Vermont officials from the Secretary of State’s Office have initiated an investigation into the source of severe bacterial infections among five young people in Middlebury, all of whom recently received tattoos.

The bacterial infections, known as MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus), may be related to tattoos received from an unlicensed practitioner, according to Dr. Cort Lohff, state epidemiologist for the Vermont Department of Health. The Secretary of State’s Office, which regulates professional tattoo artists, is working cooperatively with the Health Department to halt the spread of the infection. MRSA can be transmitted person-to-person by direct contact, or by touching contaminated objects that have been handled by someone with this infection.

“The outbreak may – or may not be related to tattoos received by these young people in Middlebury in late July,” according to Dr. Lohff. “Two of the young people have been hospitalized. Right now our primary concern is to make young people aware of the dangers of receiving a tattoo from someone who is not licensed. MRSA skin infections can be serious, and though can be treated with antibiotics, may also require surgery.”

The names of the young people, which includes three teen-agers, will not be released due to confidentiality concerns. The Health Department has notified Middlebury-area health care providers of the outbreak to help facilitate diagnosis and treatment.

Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz said that if the suspected tattoo artist is found to be the source of the infection, several laws will have been violated. Tattooists and body piercers are regulated by the Office of Professional Regulation, a division of the Secretary of State’s Office. Tattooing can only be performed in licensed shops that are subject to inspection and strict sanitation and sterilization requirements.