The cases range in age from 13 to 39 of age; all had their ears pierced between late-May through July 9, 2013. "Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a serious bacterial infection that can carry some potential for permanent disfigurement," said Bacon. "Pseudomonas infections of ear cartilage can be difficult to treat. In all, six patients were admitted to the hospital, seven required an incision to drain the abscess(es), as part of their treatment. There is concern that there may be other cases in the community that have not been reported or adequately treated. Failure to treat the infections could result in permanent ear deformity, or, more seriously, the infection could spread to other parts of the body," added Bacon.

"We are continuing to investigate," said Winnebago County Health Department’s Director of Health Protection and Promotion, Dee Dunnett. Environmental samples have been collected for testing. "Preliminary information gathered shows only people who were pierced on the upper ear cartilage became infected," she added.

On July 17, 2013, the shop was inspected by representatives of the Illinois Department of Public Health along with the Winnebago County Health Department. Both agencies are regulatory agents for body piercing establishments. An inspection was also conducted on July 15th. "The owner has voluntarily suspended all piercing operations at the shop. The owners and staff have been cooperative in this investigation," said Environmental Health Director, Larry Swacina.

If a person who has had an ear piercing develops redness, swelling or pain following a piercing, especially of the upper ear, should be assessed by a physician for potential infection, and should contact their local Health Department.

Individuals interested in body piercing should verify that the facility is registered with the State of Illinois. Make sure the person doing the piercing has washed their hands and is wearing gloves for the piercing procedure. Also, ensure the jewelry has been properly sterilized and free of scratches or irregular surfaces. Individuals should ask if the piercer follows the IDPH tattoo and body piercing guidelines. If you have recently had a piercing, make sure to keep the area dry and clean. Follow any instructions given to you for after care. Such instructions could include:

• Wash your hands prior to touching the piercing; do not touch except when cleaning.

• Stay healthy; the healthier your lifestyle, the easier it will be for your piercing to heal.

• Showers tend to be safer than taking baths, as bathtubs can harbor bacteria. If you bathe in a tub, clean it well before each use and rinse off the piercing when you get out.

Again, health officials recommend that if you or someone you know has recently had a piercing and is experiencing symptoms, call a primary care physician or go to an immediate care clinic for follow-up. Because this is an on-going epidemiological investigation, please contact the Winnebago County Health Department at (815)720-4000, or 815-720-4050 to report a recent history of ear piercing and experiencing an infection at the site of ear piercing. People living in Boone County may contact the Boone County Health Department at 815-544-2951. People living in Ogle County may contact Ogle County Health Department at 815-732-7330.

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