Legal tattoo artists in Caldwell County said they are seeing an uptick in a dangerous problem called scratching, or illegal tattoos done by unlicensed people.
Chris Hollifield, who owns the Dragon's Den Tattoo Company in Granite Falls, said his employees deal with people who want their poorly done -- and sometimes infected -- tattoos to be fixed on a weekly basis.
"We've seen them so bad that we have to sterilize the shop. We have to stop and spray everything because it's so bad if they've been in somebody's booth. You won't believe the infections that come from this," Hollifield said.
Hollifield said many times those tattoos have been done illegally by people known in the industry as "scratchers," those who work without the proper permits from the county.
Since tattooing involves exposure to blood and body fluids, it is regulated by the state as a means of keeping customers and tattoo artists safe from diseases and infections, including HIV, hepatitis and staph.
Caldwell County Environmental Health Supervisor Ray Rhinehart is responsible for making sure tattoo artists and their workspaces are up to state standards.
"If you go into a site and you don't see a permit on the wall, you know that they have not been legally permitted. So that's something you need to look for," he said.
After getting the complaints from legitimate tattoo artists, Caldwell County Health Director Denise Michaud said her office is now investigating several possible "scratchers" in the county.
She is encouraging others to report illegal inking as well.
"Not only is it a risk for the individual getting the tattoo, there is no inspection regulation of the artist or individual who is providing that service," Michaud said. "We don't know if their equipment has been properly sterilized. We don't know if they are reusing needles that have been used on another individual. We've also heard of the risk of communicable diseases such as AIDS because of the sharing of needles."
Mishoud said the "scratchers" could face charges. Illegal tattooing is a class two misdemeanor.
"They just need to do it right or stop, that's it,” Hollifield said.
After investigating, the Caldwell County health directors said her office plans to send warning letters to people who are suspected of doing illegal tattoos.