Percutaneous injuries from suture needles

A fact sheet on suture needles injuries from the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, includes the following key points and references:

Suture needles are the main source of needlesticks to OR personnel, causing 51% of all sharps injuries in surgical settings. Scalpel blades rank a distant second, with 12% of injuries.1

Of the estimated 384,000 percutaneous injuries (PIs) occurring in U.S. hospitals each year,2 sharp-tip suture needles account for approximately 14% (54,000 suture needle PIs/year).3

The large number of injuries from suture needles increases the risk that a bloodborne pathogen, such as HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C, could be transmitted from a patient to a healthcare worker, or from a healthcare worker to a patient.

If a surgeon is injured when his or her hands are in contact with the surgical site (the circumstances under which a patient can be exposed to the surgeon's blood), data show that a suture needle is the cause of injury in 71% of cases.4

Follow-up for percutaneous injuries costs between $500 and $2,500 (if no infection is contracted)5, with an average of $672 reported in one study6; for the estimated 54,000 injuries caused by suture needles each year, this translates to a potential cost to U.S. hospitals of $36.3 million per year.

A study published in the journal of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN Journal) found that "59% of suture needle injuries were caused by needles used to suture muscle or fascia, for which blunt suture needles could be substituted."1

The study further found that if a 59% drop in suture needle injuries were realized, "this measure alone would result in an overall 30% drop in percutaneous injuries in the OR."1


1. Jagger J, Bentley M, Tereskerz P. A study of patterns and prevention of blood exposures in OR personnel. AORN Journal. 1998; 67:979-996.

2. Panlilio AL, Orelien JG, Srivastava PU, et al. The NaSH Surveillance Group (CDC); The EPINet Data Sharing Network. Estimate of the annual number of percutaneous injuries among hospital-based healthcare workers in the United States, 1997-1998. Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. 2004; 25:556-562.

3. International Healthcare Worker Safety Center, University of Virginia Health System. EPINet Multihospital Sharps Injury Surveillance Network. Needlestick and Sharp-Object Injury Report (1997-2000; 9888 total injuries; 72 hospitals contributing data).

4. International Healthcare Worker Safety Center, University of Virginia Health System. EPINet OR Multihospital Surveillance Network – Operating Room Study conducted in conjunction with AORN, 1995-1996. Unpublished data (six hospitals, 15 months, 386 percutaneous injuries).

5. United States General Accounting Office. Occupational safety: selected cost and benefit implications of needlestick prevention devices for hospitals. GAO-01-60R; November 17, 2000. (Available at

6. Jagger J, Bentley M. Direct cost of follow-up for percutaneous and mucocutaneous exposures to at-risk body fluids: data from two hospitals. Advances in Exposure Prevention 1998; 3:25,34-35.