New safety devices can reduce risk of needlestick injuries

When used correctly, retractable syringes can prevent 100% of needlesticks

Almost a million needlesticks are reported every year, but many of these could have been avoided, says Kathy L. Farley, RN, MSN, CNA, manager of worldwide clinical education for Johnson & Johnson Medical Inc., based in Arlington, TX. "Syringes are the most frequent cause of these injuries," she notes. (See chart on causes of needlesticks, this page.) However, needlesticks from blood-filled, hollow-bore needles, such as IV stylets, pose the highest transmission risk.1

Hospitals consistently identify nurses as the group most frequently reporting needlesticks, says Farley. Percutaneous injuries due to needlesticks are the most frequent case of health care workers' exposure to bloodborne pathogens, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV), she notes.

Don't let your guard down in any situation. "In this day and age, everybody is to be assumed to have everything, so there is no such thing as low risk," says Beth Anne Algie, RN, clinical education coordinator for Retractable Technologies, Inc.

When Algie was stuck with a needle in a situation she considered low risk, she ended up with a terminal condition. "An elderly woman was in pain from hip replacement surgery, so I prepared the site and injected her," she says. "She had been under anesthesia and swatted at my hand, pushing the needle into my other hand."

"I looked at her and thought, she probably hasn't had must risk behavior, but we were surprised when blood transfusion contained very high viral loads of hepatitis, which is very contagious by needlestick," says Algie.

As a result of the needlestick, Algie contracted hepatitis B. "This was before a vaccine was available, and I ended up getting extremely serious hepatitis B with liver enzymes that remained well over 2000 for quite awhile," she says. "Because of that I'm in a terminal situation and it's getting more and more life-threatening each year."

Safety devices can protect you from accidental needlesticks. (See information box on page 107.) "Nurses need to be the ones to demand that this equipment gets into their hands," Algie urges.

In some cases, nurses are taking chances with safety devices that need to be activated to work correctly, says Algie. "During a trauma situation when you inject a patient, everyone's freaking out, and if you to have to focus and manually extend something, it's just another opportunity for accidents to happen," she warns.

Algie is now a spokesperson for a firm that makes syringes that automatically retract. "This product would have saved my life because it eliminates 100% of all needlesticks-not in certain situations, but all of them," she notes. "It retracts before you pull the syringe away from the patient, so you cannot get stuck."