The Antibiotic Apocalypse and the end of tattooing
by Matt Haddon-Reichardt Collaborator on Nov 01, 2019
Storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. An imminent global catastrophe is threatening to put an end to tattooing as we know it and change life on this planet forever. Yayo sent out investigative journalist Matt Haddon-Reichardt to uncover the truth behind the antibiotic apocalypse.
“Can you have it laser removed?” Asked the Doctor her tone laced with disapproval.
“Err I guess I could,” I stammered not sure in which direction the consultation was heading.
She whipped off her rubber gloves and asked me to pull up my trousers.
“Well it’s defiantly infected,” she concluded.
As I buckled my belt she handed me a prescription for antibiotics.
“And these will clear the infection?” I asked.
“Maybe; we’ll have to see,” was her honest but blunt reply. “If it gets worse, starts to swell or becomes painful come back right away. If you develop a fever, start to vomit or feel really like you are dying go to A&E.”
“What?” My face blank.
“Sepsis,” is her one word reply.
“Many Doctors think end of the world is on its way and it won't be from global warming, nuclear war or natural disasters."
It had all been going so well. I’d finally got an appointment booked with tattoo genius Guy Fletcher, who was going to start on a leg piece based on my own photographic work. As I headed towards the 21st anniversary of my first tattoo and my 7th writing for the tattoo industry I felt it was time to step things up a level and start taking my body art more seriously. Then I took my eye off the ball.
In the past aftercare had always been a priority but getting tattooed while away on holiday had meant my standards had slipped. As I walked away from the doctor’s surgery I contemplated how the perfect storm of hot weather, tight jeans and poor hand hygiene had resulted in my new tattoo getting a bacterial infection.
As soon as things started heading south I had contacted Guy. His advice was clear; wash the tattoo in antibacterial soap, keep it clean and dry and get to the doctors. From the tone of the GP his advice not only saved my tattoo but my life.
That evening, as I sat glumly in the local gin bar with my paramedic friend Greg, the threat the tattoo industry faces from antibiotic resistant bacteria becomes apparent.
“Many Doctors think end of the world is on its way and it won't be from global warming, nuclear war or natural disasters. Your infected tattoo is just the thin end of the wedge,” Grant stated as he sipped his G&T.
“Scientists in China have observed bacteria in both humans and animals that are immune to the strongest antibiotic drugs. From China these drug immune bacteria will spread around the world helped by cheap long haul flights and an interconnected world dependent of goods and services from far flung regions. They are calling it the antibiotic apocalypse; and its science fact not science fiction. Medicine will be thrown back to the dark ages; tattooing will be the least of our worries.”
I weakly counter his statement with an act of denial.
“Surely it can’t be that bad? Can it?”
Greg laughs and he downs his drink.
“Joe Public may think the antibiotic apocalypse is a slick term dreamed up by journalist hacks to sell papers but the outcome of this event is very real and very dangerous.”
“In a world without antibiotics as simple infection like tonsillitis could kill you and if it didn’t the surgery to correct it could."
Greg catches the eye of a waitress and orders another round.
“In a world without antibiotics as simple infection like tonsillitis could kill you and if it didn’t the surgery to correct it could. I’m seeing the reality of antibiotic resistance first hand from inside the NHS; super bugs like MRSA are a real problem.”
“I’ve brought people into hospital because the antibiotics the GP has given them for an infection aren’t working. More and more bacteria are becoming immune to antibiotics putting us all at risk. We are already seeing treatment resistant strains of gonorrhea in the UK and more bacterial strains could follow this trend as society continues to misuse antibiotics.”
Prior to the discovery and application of antibiotics in 1877, by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, even the simplest medical procedure ran the risk of infection. A trip to the dentist to have a tooth removed could be the first stage of a slow and agonizing death.
“The skin is a wondrous evolutionary creation that keeps out potentially harmful viruses and bacteria. Tattooing breaks this barrier allowing what should stay on the outside into the body. In essence tattooing is a surgical procedure and the same issues the antibiotic apocalypse raises for surgery apply to tattooing.”
Guy, like the over whelming majority of modern professional tattooists, is a stickler for hygiene and the industry now prides itself on surgical like cleanliness. The days of sharing needles and reusing ink pots are in the past but any procedure that breaks the skin can lead to infection.
“Your lovely new leg tattoo would be a different story without antibiotics; the infection could have spread beyond the skin. The GP wasn’t joking when she talked about sepsis.”
Sepsis is when blood poisoning, septicemia, spreads to the body’s major organs. Once the whole body is infected with bacteria death is a real possibility. Without antibiotics the chances of surviving sepsis are very, very slim.
“If society doesn’t sort its shit out and stop misusing current antibiotics we could be in situation where common bacterial infections are as lethal as Ebola or the plague. In a world where a cut or graze could result in death I can see governments banning tattooing and piercing to protect the public from themselves.”
"In essence tattooing is a surgical procedure and the same issues the antibiotic apocalypse raises for surgery apply to tattooing.”
A week later I’m again sat with Greg in the gin house.
“Not dead yet then,” he quips as I hand him his drink.
To my relief the antibiotics had done their job. The infection had cleared, the tattoo was healing. Thanks to Guy’s prompt advice there had been minimal damage to his artwork.
“So you going to follow the GP’s advice and have it lasered off?” Teases Greg.
“No way; I’m booked in to have it touched up, finished off and the background put in.”
“Just look after it better this time,” orders Greg. “Keep it clean, dry and wash your hands before you touch it. I don’t want to have to bury you because of a bloody tattoo.”
A final thought from the author: "Good tattoo aftercare is essential to stop infection and ensure the tattoo stays looking in tip top condition. Ever since my infection I've healed my tattoos with Yayo with fantastic results and no need for antibiotics. Don't take risks like I did. Always ensure impeccable hygiene and a rigorous aftercare regime; and always use Yayo."
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