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About one out of every three needlesticks occurs with a hypodermic syringe – a device that is available with many types of safety features. As thousands of needlesticks continue to occur from hypodermic needles, hospitals need to do a better job of protecting health care workers from bloodborne pathogens, safety experts say. Though occupational transmission of HIV is virtually unheard of now, there are likely unreported cases and certainly hepatitis C virus poses a threat in the absence of a vaccine.
In 2009, for example, 884 of 2,889 sharps injuries reported by Massachusetts++ hospitals involved hypodermic needles. Massachusetts hospitals are required by state law to report their sharps injuries. Almost one-third of those injuries (274, or 31%) involved devices that lacked safety features.1 A similar proportion of sharps injuries (31%) involved hypodermic needles in the 2007 EPINet surveillance data of the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
“Clearly, those are most often cases where people are not complying with both state and federal regulations to use appropriate devices,” says Angela Laramie, MPH, epidemiologist with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Occupational Health Surveillance Program.
As the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act enters its second decade, there has been a renewed push for further progress. In a regional emphasis program, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors will target bloodborne pathogen hazards at outpatient centers in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Under president Karen A. Daley, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, who acquired HIC and hepatitis C from a needlestick, the American Nurses Association relaunched its Safe Needles Save Lives campaign. And Becton, Dickinson and Company of Franklin Lakes, NJ, the largest needle and syringe manufacturer in the world, has created a new web site to highlight the stories of health care workers who had mucocutaneous exposures.
Why are needlesticks with hypodermic needles so persistent? One reason for the higher numbers is mathematical: “They’ve always accounted for the highest proportion of injuries because they’re the most commonly used device,” notes Jane Perry, MA, associate director of the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center.
There also is easy availability of conventional hypodermic needles because they are used in pharmacies and for other non-patient-related tasks, she says. “[The data] shows that there’s a continuing need to analyze our needlestick data and look for areas where we need to address lack of use of safety devices,” she says.
Special update from our sister publication, Hospital Employee Health
1. Massachusetts Department of Public Health Occupational Health Surveillance Program. Sharps injuries among hospital workers in Massachusetts, 2009: Findings from the Massachusetts. Sharps Injury Surveillance System. Boston, MA, 2011.