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Risky Business

Needlestick injuries in health care

By Laura Kuhn

Every year, between 600,000 and 800,000 needlestick injuries occur among healthcare workers. Although most of these injuries involve nurses, other healthcare workers, including laboratory staff, physicians and housekeepers, are also affected.1

Needlestick injuries can be caused by products such as hypodermic needles, blood collection needles and IV stylets and can expose healthcare workers to a number of bloodborne pathogens, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. 2

Risk of infection

A healthcare worker's risk of infection following a needlestick injury depends on the pathogen involved, the worker's immune system, the severity of the injury and the availability and use of post-needlestick prophylaxis.1

For HIV, the average transmission rate following a needlestick injury is 0.3 percent. For Hepatitis B, the rate ranges from 6 percent to 30 percent after a single needlestick exposure (however, these exposures are only a risk for workers are not immune to Hepatitis B). On average, 1.8 percent of people exposed to Hepatitis C through a needlestick developed the infection.1

Pre-exposure vaccination and post-exposure prophylaxis can dramatically reduce the risk of developing Hepatitis B. This isn't the case for Hepatitis C and HIV, so the best method of preventing these infections is to work diligently to prevent needlestick injuries.1

The emotional impact of a needlestick injury

Needlestick injuries can also result in emotional distress for the affected person, especially those injuries that involve exposure to HIV. In some reported cases, healthcare workers even sought counseling to handle their distress and the uncertainty of not knowing their infection status after exposure to a bloodborne pathogen.1

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