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CHICAGO, Feb 24 (AFP) - Piercing the upper ear can be a risky business, and can even result in disfigurement if the cartilage becomes infected, according to a study released Tuesday.
US researchers who investigated a crop of infections among customers who had ear piercings at a jewelery kiosk in the northwestern state of Oregon found that the cartilage of the ear is inherently more susceptible to infection than the lobe.
Public health officials who investigated an outbreak of bacterial infections among the kiosk's clients found that seven teenagers treated during the seven weeks covered by the investigation were infected with a bacteria called P aeruginosa.
The bacteria, which is known to cause sporadic cartilage infections following ear piercing or other trauma, was cultured from two of the business four employees, from waste water in traps beneath sinks at the kiosk, and from a spray used to disinfect a piercing gun.
Four of the infected teenagers underwent inicision and drainage procedures, another had intravenous drugs, and several more were treated with oral antibiotics, according to the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The infections lasted up to three months, and several customers sufferers were cosmetically deformed, left with "severe disfigurement" of the upper ear.
"Upper ear cartilage piercing was more likely to result in either confirmed or suspected piercing than was lobe piercing," the authors wrote.
"This outbreak smoldered for weeks -- perhaps months -- until two patients happened to be referred to the same otolaryngologist (ear specialist) who promptly notified the local health department.
"Had the outbreak occurred in a larger community, with more specialists or hospitals, or had the clinician not contacted the health department, it might have continued indefinitely -- unnoticed, uninvestigated and uncontrolled," they concluded.
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