An unidentified Texas man died after he went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after he got a crucifix tattoo with the words “Jesus is my life” below it, according to a case study published last week.
The study, which was released by BMJ Case Reports, has generated international headlines after shocking images of the man’s infected skin hit social media. The man’s identity was not revealed in the report, but he was reportedly 31 years old and Latino, per CNN.
According to the study, the man ignored one of the first rules for fresh tattoos: avoid soaking the tattoo. Because tattoos are micro-abrasions to the skin, they are technically open wounds, making them easily susceptible to infection, per Medical Daily.
That, combined with the fact that the man had a chronic liver disease from heavy drinking, resulted in him developing vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating bacteria that caused septic shock, which resulted in his kidneys failing and his eventual death, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Nicholas Hendren, an internal medicine resident at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
What was especially shocking to the researchers was how quickly the man’s condition deteriorated: He went swimming five days after he was tattooed, and 24 hours after he was admitted to the hospital, he was on life support, according to Metro UK. He eventually rallied so that doctors were optimistic about his chances for survival, but regressed and died of organ failure two months after he was first admitted.
While most healthy people do not die as a result of vibrio vulnificus, the authors of the study did say the case report showed how dangerous infection can be for those with liver illnesses, as well as anyone who receives a tattoo.
Most doctors recommend that anyone who gets a tattoo rest for two weeks before any strenuous activity or swimming, a challenge for many who want to return to their usual routine as quickly as possible.
“People who get body art tend to be active, so they do what they always do, which is to go rock climbing, or swimming or lifting weights at the gym,” Dr. Jared Jagdeo, an assistant professor in the department of dermatology at the University of California, told Men’s Health.
However, the graphic images of the unidentified man serve as a clear warning: swimming soon after a tattoo is a risky decision.