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Have weak immunity? Don’t get a tattoo

Body modification using tattoos has picked up in the country over the past few years as an art form and as a way of expressing oneself.

These days, turning yourself into a living, breathing canvass on which an artist can illustrate his skill is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

With tattoo parlours in Nairobi increasing in number and with rates starting at about Sh2,000 depending on the size and intricacy of the design selected, anyone can easily get ‘inked’.

However, few are aware of the dangers that lie in the procedure. According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Case Reports published on June 18, people who have weak immune systems are at risk of adverse reaction on being tattooed.

According to the journal, a woman had a double lung transplant and was on immune suppressing drugs to reduce the chances of her body rejecting the transplanted organs.


She decided to get a tattoo on her left leg a few months after her surgery and within a short time, she developed complications.

She had had a tattoo done on her right leg before her surgery with no complaints, but immediately after this one, she experienced mild skin irritation.

Nine days later, she developed pain in her left knee and thigh. According to William Thomas Wilson, Mannix O’Boyle and William J Leacher, the authors of the paper, her symptoms were so severe that she needed strong painkillers.

Ten months later and still suffering, doctors decided to do a biopsy of her thigh muscle (a piece of her thigh muscle was examined under a microscope).

It turned out that the patient suffered from inflammatory myopathy –– chronic muscle inflammation, which is often accompanied by muscle weakness and pain. Doctors linked her condition to the tattoo. She underwent physiotherapy to strengthen her thigh.


It took three years for the symptoms to go away for good.

Conditions such as HIV, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease and diabetes mellitus are also some of the culprits that may weaken one’s immunity.

Mr Kinyua Maina, also known as Ricky is the owner and tattoo artist at Inkwood Tattoo and Piercings. He says he never tattoos a client before they sign a consent form. Mr Maina says he was advised by a lawyer client to get it in order to prevent legal repercussions in case something goes wrong.

“I am not a haemophiliac (bleeder). I do not have diabetes, hepatitis, HIV, AIDS or any other communicable disease. I am not under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” says the first part of the form that Mr Maina said was drawn up for him by a doctor.


Speaking at his tattoo parlour along Moi Avenue, Mr Maina said most infections occur when clients do not follow instructions on how to care for the tattoos as they heal. A tattoo takes about two weeks to heal.

Julie, a tattoo enthusiast who already has six of them on various parts of her body, says she has never had a problem with them. For her, it is a straight-forward procedure, just like a hair salon – you walk in, say what you want, and get it done. However, she has never signed a consent form.

In Kenya, the growing industry is unregulated, and you only a small business license to get started. Mr Maina said he got into the business by observing the procedure being done. He has been in it for the last five years.