Atomic tattoo


Blood-type tattoos were used during the Cold War to enable rapid transfusions as part of a “walking blood bank” in case of atomic attack. Nationwide blood-typing programs occurred to inform individuals of their own blood types and to provide local communities with lists of possible donors. The blood-type tattooing program was part of this effort, but community-wide tattooing occurred only in two parts of the United States: Lake County, Indiana, and Cache and Rich counties, Utah. In these communities, during 1951 and 1952, schoolchildren were tattooed to facilitate emergency transfusions.

A 73 year-old female presented for routine treatment of actinic keratosis and needed a head to toe annual examination.  I noticed a blob of tattoo ink along her left chest just below her axillary region.  I asked her what it was from, and she promptly responded…that’s my atomic tattoo.  I said…what?

Then came her story.  When she was 12 years-old she was part of a tattooing program at her school.  She was blood typed and then a tattoo of her blood-type was placed along her left chest wall, as shown in the photograph above.  Needless to say time has not been kind to this tattoo and it has blurred to the point of being worthless, at least when it comes to being able to identify her blood type.  The tattoo was placed using a device called a vibro-tool.

I presented this case at a national meeting a number of years ago, and I decided to produce a Video  so it could be posted on YouTube.  In researching this I came across a really excellent article written by Elizabeth Wolf and Anne Laumann in the J Am Acad Dermatol.  To read the abstract for this article Click HERE.

Atomic Tattoo: Blood-type tattoos during the Cold War…