Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Centers for Disease Control and Tattoos

So, yesterday, I posted about tattoos.  Focusing on one public radio program (The Take Away) and one segment of one morning program.  The blog entry wandered a bit but all came down to the interesting fact that the proportion of American adults with tattoos has noticeably increased (as documented by some data) and how I like to think of my own tattoos as "permanent vision boards".

I also commented that at least one family member was interested in why the Centers for Disease Control (or the CDC) had anything to say about tattoos.  I gave an answer in yesterday's blog but have since actually dug around a bit to find the reference that was cited in the radio spot.

What I found when I searched "CDC  tattoos 21 percent" was that there was a recent report in the publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.   The report was not particularly about the proportion of individuals with tattoos.  That was simply a number in the first paragraph of the report that was not an official CDC statistic but a citation to other work done by Harris polling.  The work was an online survey (which may or may not be representative of the population at large).  The work, while I'm sure high quality because polling businesses don't stay in business if they do shoddy work, may not be at the same level of technical sophistication and unbiasedness as most CDC work.  However, given that it is cited in a CDC publication in something written by the CDC suggests that they place a great deal of credibility on the data.  I actually am somewhat surprised that there does not appear to be a standard CDC survey (perhaps something like Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System--that looks at health behaviors that are associated with health risks on an annual basis) that asks about tattoos.

The main point of the MMWR article was to report on a number of cases of skin infections in four states.  The infections appear to be the results of the practice of manufacturing tattoo ink and not any practice used by the tattoo artists.  But that is why the CDC also recommends going to professional tattoo artists.  And, of course, consumers should do a little background work to find out as best they can whether the artists are using best practices in hygiene and best practices in available materials.

Some press, as with most things in the world, picked up the news from the CDC publication and sensationalized it.  An example said "New Secret Dangers of Tattoos: CDC Reports Mass Infections..."  Well, the dangers are not secret.  Tattoo artists require a waiver to be signed acknowledging risks.  And there are strict care instructions afterwards--also to minimize risk.  It is a big decision.  It is one that should be made with full information.  But the full information that is out there provides plenty of data already about what the risks are.  The CDC report sait it was difficult to determine the exact incidence of infection, but the count for the "Mass Infections" in the online title was...22!  Given the number of people with one or more tattoos and how quickly it is growing, I think that 22 infections is an importan figure to understand but not something to cause alarm as "mass infections."

Finally, for anyone interested, here is a link to report released by Harris Interactive in February of this year--not exactly new news.  There were some interesting statistics in the results.  According to the results the portion of the country with the lowest prevalence of tattoos is the south.  A higher proportion of women respondents have them than men.  A higher proportion of Democrats than Republicans.  The statistics (about who has them. what those who have them think, and what adults in general or people without tattoos think of those who do) go on and anyone interested can see for themselves.

I think that the one other statistic I'd like to comment on is that 25 percent of those who don't have tattoos think that those who do are less spiritual.  This is fascinating to me as for me it was such a spiritual decision.  And I realize that my own case is an anecdote and not representative data, but I know lots of people for whom there is a very deep spiritual meaning to what they have.  (And others for whom this is not true.)  But I don't really think that there is much reason to think of a different in spirituality, intelligence, health, or any number of other things that were perceived as being very different based on the study results.  Again, the study may not be a perfect representation of American opinion, but it points to some interesting trends and trends in perceptions that I suspect will go away over time.  

No comments:

Post a Comment