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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

FDA: Surgeons not getting the point about blunt suture needles

A recent alert from the Food and Drug Administration adds some clout to the longstanding effort to get surgeons to use blunt suture needles to close fascia and muscle and to reduce sharps injuries in the operating room. Sharps injuries in the OR put both surgeons and patients at risk of bloodborne infections.

In a joint publication, the FDA, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) said they “strongly encourage health care professionals to use blunt-tip suture needles as an alternative to standard suture needles when suturing fascia and muscle to decrease the risk of needlestick injury.”

The document echoes a joint safety bulletin issued by OSHA and NIOSH in 2008, urging the use of blunt suture needles. OSHA inspectors have been visiting ambulatory surgery centers, among other outpatient facilities, in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi as part of a special emphasis program.

The operating room has lagged behind the rest of the hospital in implementing safer practices, despite a 2005 statement from the American College of Surgeons advocating “universal adoption of blunt suture needles as the first choice for fascial suturing.”

In fact, an analysis of sharps injuries at 87 hospitals around the country showed that sharps injuries actually rose by 6.7% in the OR between 1993 and 2006 while they declined by 31.6% elsewhere in the hospital.

Blunt suture needles could reverse that trend. Using blunt suture needles cuts the risk of glove perforation and needlestick by more than half, according to a Cochrane review of 10 randomized controlled trials.

“We hope [the FDA alert] will bring refocused attention to the issue and we’ll start seeing an increase in uptake of blunt suture needles,” says Jane Perry, MA, associate director of the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “It will give not just safety advocates, but manufacturers of safety needles, a good tool to educate their customers.”

--Michele Marill