The safety issues concerning accidental needle sticks can cause alarm and anxiety for any person injured by a needle stick. Health care and governmental programs have devoted an enormous amount of funding and research to standardize precautions to prevent needle sticks as well as the proper protocol in the case of accidents.
Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms in the blood or other body fluids that may cause illness and disease. Microorganisms are transmitted through contact with contaminated blood and body fluids. Accidental needle sticks can cause a person to come into contact with bloodborne pathogens.
The most common diseases from needle stick injury are HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), HBV (the Hepatitis B virus) and HCV (the Hepatitis C virus). HIV is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), the final and fatal stage of HIV disease. However, many people live with the HIV virus for years without developing AIDS. Hepatitis affects liver function and can also be fatal.
Health care professionals---including doctors and nurses, lab technicians, emergency response personnel and janitors---have one of the highest career risks for needle stick accidents. Duties such as drawing blood, administering medication, performing surgery, testing blood or tissue samples and cleaning after these procedures may lead to an accidental work-related needle sticks.
If you are stuck by a needle or other sharp object or get blood or other potentially infectious materials in your eyes, nose, mouth or on broken skin, immediately flood the exposed area with water and clean any wound with soap and water or a skin disinfectant if available. Report the incident to your employer and seek immediate medical attention. Many employers have a procedural manual for steps to follow to guarantee that all risk-reducing steps are addressed.
During the first visit to a doctor following a needle stick, blood will be drawn to perform a baseline test, which checks for any virus or suspicious antibodies. Additional blood draws taken every 6 weeks, 12 weeks and 6 months after exposure check for activity of any viruses. Extended HIV follow-up (typically 12 months) is recommended for professionals infected with HCV after exposure to a source co-infected with both HIV and HCV. HIV testing should be performed on any exposed person who has an illness compatible with an acute retroviral syndrome, regardless of the interval since exposure.
PEP is an acronym for post-exposure prophylaxis, the drugs prescribed to individuals who have had a needle stick and are seeking treatment while waiting on the results of the various blood tests. The PEP prescribed for HIV exposure is known as an antiretroviral drug. The PEP for HBV is the Hepatitis B immune globulin and the HBV vaccine. It is uncommon to use antiretroviral medications for HBV or HCV exposure.
- Photo Credit needle image by Marek Kosmal from Fotolia.com