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Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Wilderness Medicine Tattoo

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Many years back, Dr. Kenneth Kizer and I performed original research and published on the bacteriology of the aquatic environment, both marine and freshwater, to help guide antibiotic selection for persons who developed infections related to seawater or natural freshwater. Among other microorganisms we cultured from seawater was Mycobacterium marinum, which sometimes causes a distinct clinical presentation in humans. There are other less rare mycobacterium species, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is the causative agent of tuberculosis.

In March of this year, there was a report emanating from the Mayo Clinic that Mycobacterium chelonae may be present in some skin irritations associated with fresh tattoos. This germ is another nontuberculous mycobacterium. It was commented that the infection might be misdiagnosed or overlooked, presumably because such infection is so uncommon. It's notable that even though the infection is present within two weeks of the initial exposure, diagnosis may take more than four months, and with proper treatment (such as a macrolide antibiotic; e.g., clarithromycin) additional months for a cure.

I've been contemplating getting a tattoo of the Wilderness Medical Society logo, so now I have one more reason to postpone.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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