A 31-year-old man died for swimming in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after getting a tattoo.

He was infected by Vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating bacteria that’s usually found in seawater and oysters, but especially in the Gulf of Mexico, where at least ten other patients have died from contracting the bacteria since 1990.

Image credit: SmarterEveryDay Youtube Channel
Image credit: SmarterEveryDay Youtube Channel

The man was treated by doctors in a nearby hospital, but they were unable to save him.

A fresh tattoo and a bad decision cost him his life

The man had gotten a crucifix tattoo on his right calf and decided to swim in the ocean just five days later. He contracted Vibrio vulnificus and developed sepsis, which left him feverish and with both of his legs swollen. Three days later he was driven to emergencies and doctors discovered that he also had chronic liver disease.

Doctors started treating him with antibiotics, but the man was not able to recover. Eventually, he suffered from organ failure and was put on life support. He improved but died two weeks later after his kidneys collapsed.

“This case highlights the association of chronic liver disease and high mortality associated with infections of V. vulnificus. Health providers should remain vigilant for V. vulnificus infections in patients with chronic liver disease and raw oyster ingestion or seawater exposure,” reads the case report published in the British Medical Journal.

Common guidelines when getting a tattoo include not swimming in the ocean until the wound has healed. Additionally, the Gulf of Mexico is a hotspot for Vibrio vulnificus, providing the perfect conditions for someone with a new tattoo to become infected.

Doctors advise that patients with chronic liver disease, AIDS, and any other condition that weakens the immune system, should refrain from swimming in the sea and from eating raw mollusks, even more so if they have an open wound of some sort. Additionally, Vibrio vulnificus is 80 times more likely to infect a person that has a weakened immune system, including those with chronic liver disease.

Tattoos are not dangerous if done under the right circumstances, but regular tattoos are made by puncturing the skin repeatedly, so they do classify as a puncture wound until it heals completely. Regardless of whether one goes swimming or not, someone with a new tattoo is supposed to keep the area disinfected and clean at all times to avoid unnecessary health complications. Tattoos usually heal after two weeks, when the skin has already scarred, and the scabs start falling down.

Other diseases that can be transmitted by the use of needles on the skin are hepatitis B, hepatitis C, AIDS, and tetanus, although the risk should be minimal if the tattoo is made by an artist that follows common sanitary procedures.

After getting a tattoo, the client should keep the bandage on for at least 24 hours, while consistently covering the patch of skin with antibiotic ointment and moisturizing cream. Warm waters should be avoided, as they have a higher risk of harboring bacteria that could seep through the tiny holes left by the tattooist’s needle.

Source: British Medical Journal