Needlestick injuries and Blood-Borne viruses

A few days ago, I remembered a presentation I did on needlestick injuries when I was at Uni. I remember being fascinated with some of the things I found out and how unaware I was of some of the issues around these injuries and how to prevent them. So I have decided to write a short article on needlestick injuries. Today, I am just going to go over the main infections you can get from exposure to infected needles and in my next articles, I will be writing about methods of prevention. So watch this space!

There is risk of exposure to infectious diseases when you use needles and syringes, which can be spread through needlestick injuries  and can be communicable to other humans. There is a reported transmission of at least 20 different pathogens by needlestick and sharps injuries. Needlestick injuries occur where access to inner organs or tissues is done by needle puncture of the skin.

Occupations with greater risks:

Most of the infections from needlestick injuries are incurable and sometimes fatal so employees need to be protected from these risks; though they cannot be completely eliminated, measures can be taken to reduce the risks significantly. Reports from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) most needlestick injuries (NSIs) reported, took place when health care workers were disposing of needles, and in cases where injuries took place during a procedure like taking blood or putting in stitches, adequate education and training.

The HPA report titled “Eye of the needle” of December 2012, reports that between 2002 and 2011, 4381 significant occupational exposures were reported. Significant exposure is an exposure to blood or other body fluids from a source that is “known to be, or as a result of the incident found to be, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or HIV positive”. Between 2002 and 2011 most occupational exposures involved nursing, medical and dental professions. 

Hazards and risks: 

Needlestick injury exposes people to both ergonomic and biological hazards

Ergonomic Hazards: cause or worsen injuries due to the design of needles and syringes which to a great extent contributes to the chances of being exposed to needlestick injuries. Safer devices and designs will be discussed in mo my next article.

Biological Hazards: these include infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites and can be transmitted through contact with body secretions, tissues and fluids or by contact with infected patients or contaminate objects. Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or HIV can be transmitted by infected blood and body fluids when in direct contact with broken, chapped or inflamed skin, mouth or eyes but exposure by needlestick injuries is of greater concern. Hepatitis B and HIV cannot be transmitted by casual contact. In a little more detail,

Hepatitis B (HBV): affects the liver and cause inflammation and sometimes significant liver damage. HBV is present in body fluids, and can be passed form from person to person when exposed to infected blood or body fluids and is 100 times more infectious than HIV. The incubation period of HBV is between one to six months and most of the times, the infected person does not know he/she is infected as the symptoms and very similar to flu. Sadly, pregnant women can pass this to their unborn child and babies infected with HBV usually have chronic infections. The good news is that a large percentage of infected individuals are able to fight off the virus and recover fully within a couple of months.

Hepatitis C (HCV): is mainly contracted when one has come in contact with blood of someone infected with hepatitis C. It is rarely passed through other body fluids and not transmitted through normal social contact. About 20% of infected individuals naturally clear the infection from their bodies in two to six months. Of the rest, some do not experience liver damage while many develop mild to moderate liver damage. A further 20% of HCV infections, progress to Liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) over a very long period of time.

HIV: HIV is a sexually transmitted virus which attacks the body’s immune system. It is spread by exchange of bodily fluids like semen and blood, through sexual intercourse and shared needles. HIV can therefore be contracted through accidental needlestick injuries. When an individual is infected with HIV, the virus infects special cells which decline in number and hence leaves the individual with a very high risk of developing other illnesses. HIV progresses to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), when the immune system is completely destroyed. When an individual had AIDS, he/she can develop life-threatening diseases like pneumonia. There is no cure or treatment for HIV but there are treatments to enable sufferers stay well and live normal lives.
For detailed information on these infections, please visit NHS choices

How do you protect your workers from needlestick injuries? Read the next article here

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