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Joint investigation into serious illnesses

Media Release

1 December 2006

Joint investigation into serious illnesses

Regional Public Health officials and the Department of Labour are investigating the practices of a tattooist after two young men in the Wellington region became seriously ill, one of whom is still in Hutt Hospital recovering from a life-threatening infection.

During preliminary inquiries by Regional Public Health the traditional Samoan tattooist voluntarily agreed to stop work. The Department of Labour is investigating under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, said chief advisor for occupational health Dr Geraint Emrys.

People who wish to use the services of tattooists -- traditional or otherwise -- are advised to take some commonsense precautions to ensure their own safety, said Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr Andrea Forde.

These include asking the operator to explain how they clean and sterilise equipment, protecting clients from infection, and how they suggest clients should care for their skin after the tattoo is done.

"People who become unwell or get an infection after any type of tattoo or piercing should seek medical advice quickly,"said Dr Forde.

Regional Public Health officials have contacted GPs in the Wellington region to alert them to this issue and ask if they have seen any other infected traditional tattoos or concerns about tattooists in their areas.

The services will work with this practitioner to raise the standard of infection control.

Brochures on what to check for when getting a tattoo are available from Public Health Offices. Ask for the pamphlet "Bodypiercing and Tattooing: Protecting Your Health". This information is designed for people undergoing commercial tattooing or skin piercing, not traditional tattooing, but covers basic issues such as cleaning and sterilising equipment and protecting clients.

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The Ministry of Health supports initiatives by public health staff to raise awareness with traditional Polynesian tattooists and Pacific community leaders on issues of tattoo safety and infection control.

This work has been led by the Auckland Regional Public Health Service, who are consulting closely with the these communities to develop guidelines for traditional tattooing for the Ministry of Health. These guidelines are currently in draft form.

No statutes or regulations specifically control tattooing and body piercing in New Zealand. However, these practices are subject to generic consumer safety legislation, administered by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, and the Health and Safety in Employment Act (for the body artistes themselves).

Additionally, city or district councils can regulate practice through local by-laws, and some councils currently do.

To minimise the risk to public health safety from tattooing and body piercing, in 1998 the Ministry of Health produced Guidelines for the Safe Piercing of Skin. The guidelines explain:

- how to minimise risk of transmitting blood borne and other infections by the use of standard precautions during skin piercing procedures;

- how to ensure appliances are clean and sterile before being used for skin piercing;

- how to minimise the risk of transmitting micro-organisms between the operator, the appliances used and other clients; and

- how to further promote a safe work environment for workers performing skin-piercing operations.

These guidelines promote minimum standards with respect to infection control in this industry for the operators who offer body piercing and tattooing services.


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