Posted by Roger Mallett Posted on 15 June 2024

Questioning Modern Injection Norms

 A recent medical study found an association between tattoos and malignant lymphoma, with a 21% increased risk of this type of cancer in tattooed persons. Published in the Lancet (oh, the irony!), the paper notes that tattoo ink contains known carcinogens. Nevertheless, the popularity of getting inked has skyrocketed in the past few decades.

Within living memory, the idea of having things injected into one’s body was generally viewed with aversion. The horror of intravenous drug addiction and the specter of AIDS both played a role in this. Still, there is a natural terror of having one’s skin penetrated that is – or at least was – inherent to the human psyche: consider the enduring popularity of vampire mythology as a staple of the horror genre.

Children in particular have always had a hatred of needles, and with good reason: first, it’s an obvious invasion of their physical person, and second, it hurts. Holding down a struggling child to inject them with a vaccine (often while insisting to them it’s for their own good) is a perennial litmus test for medical students as they decide upon their specialty of choice. After all, if you’re not willing to overpower young children and force needles through their skin, you’ll have a hard time making a living as a pediatrician.

In my estimation, human distaste for the hypodermic route of administration is both perfectly natural and adaptive to survival. The skin is the body’s largest and most important barrier to infection and injury, and any breach of it is potentially dangerous.

In nature, who tries to penetrate our skin? Parasites, poisoners, and predators, that’s who. Mosquitoes and other biting insects. Blood-sucking leeches. Stinging insects like hornets and wasps. Venomous animals, especially snakes. Large predators that will eat you if they can, from big cats to crocodiles to sharks.

And of course, other humans with their weapons.

In nature, the consequences of having one’s skin pierced are serious and potentially deadly.

Obviously, large-scale haemorrhage can result in death. However, dangerous infections of many kinds can also result from even a small breach in the body’s integument.

For example, malaria, an infectious disease caused by a single-celled animal (protozoan), and still a leading cause of death in the developing world, is contracted via mosquitoes. Lyme disease, caused by the probably laboratory-altered bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi and ubiquitous in the United States, is transmitted by tick bites. More mundane perhaps, but just as dangerous, virtually any open wound, if neglected, can become infected by numerous bacteria – or even fungi – and result in sepsis and death.

So why are we so eager to have our skin penetrated these days? Tattoos, body piercings, injection pharmaceuticals, and of course vaccines are all much more prevalent today than even a few decades ago.

Tattoos not only are much more common today, they are also much more extensive, often covering entire limbs, or even entire people. I have yet to diagnose a case of tattoo-induced lymphoma, but I have seen several nasty cases of tattoo-induced cellulitis, and in the old days, Hepatitis C infections with no other known risk factor.

Body piercings have followed the same pattern as tattoos: more of them and more extreme examples. Ears with 10 earrings each. Nose piercings, both in the nares and the septum. Eyebrows, lips, tongue (it enhances certain types of sexual stimulation, or so I have been told), nipples, navel, and of course, genitalia. And I’m sure I am forgetting something.

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