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Laboratory Consultant Libby Knollmeyer: Protecting Staff From Needlestick Injuries

Needlestick injury is a serious problem among healthcare workers.

It is estimated that 800,000 needlesticks occur each year in the US, with about 2% of these likely to be contaminated with HIV.  The risk of infection with Hepatitis B (HBV) or Hepatitis C (HCV) from a needlestick injury is far greater than the risk of contracting HIV however (2% – 40% for HBV and 3% – 10% for HCV).  This is due in part to the fact that the prevalence of HIV in the general population is lower than that of Hepatitis B or C.  It is also due to the fact that a greater exposure to viral load is required to contract HIV than either HBV or HCV.  While these are by no means the only infections that can be transmitted via a needlestick, they are among the most serious and all have the potential to cause death.

As one would expect, nurses and phlebotomists have the greatest incidence of needlestick injury.

Since the passing of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard in 1991 and its revision in 2000, much more emphasis has been placed on preventing these types of injuries in the healthcare setting.  Employers have the responsibility of protecting their employees and are required by law to institute policies and provide equipment that aids in this goal.


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