The infections were first reported in January, when a local dermatologist treated a patient for a rash that wouldn't go away after that patient had received a new tattoo.
The Monroe County Health Department was contacted and an investigation was launched. Deputy Health Director Dr. Byron Kennedy says 18 more cases were uncovered and it was found that there was bacteria in grey ink used in tattooing.
"The tattoo artist here in Rochester, he had attended a trade show in Arizona back in April of last year," Kennedy said. "Coming back from that trade show he had purchased some ink, started using it here in Rochester, he subsequently ended up getting a second supply and we believe it was the second supply that was contaminated because cases started occurring in October rather than in May when he originally was using the ink."
All of the people that developed the rash had their tattoos done at the Upstate Tattoo Company on South Clinton Avenue, including one of the parlor's owners.
Health Department investigators say no code violations were uncovered at Upstate Tattoo and the parlor did nothing wrong. Billy Herring, Upstate's co-owner, was one of those who contracted a rash.
"Two or three days after I got my tattoo, that the first customer came back complaining about the rash. We looked at the tattoo and we could tell it was only in the portion where we had used this specific grey wash ink. That was very, very telltale because if the whole tattoo was infected there would have been bumps everywhere not just in certain spots in the tattoo," Herring said.
At Extreme Graphix Tattoo on Dewey Avenue, owner John Brown says tattoo artists have to be careful when attending trade shows. Brown says he won't buy products from someone he doesn't know.
"My brands of ink that I carry are the same brands that I've used for years, the same brands that I sell out of my display case, and we supply a lot of local tattoo artists, everything has a certain standard to it," Brown said. "There's lot numbers, there's batch numbers, but you don't know about that guy that's mixing it in the back of his tattoo shop."
Dr. Kennedy from the Health Department authored a report on his findings for the New England Journal of Medicine.
Meanwhile, the Upstate Tattoo Company is considering legal action against the inks manufacturer, Catfish Carl's Realistic Wash of Tucson, Arizona.