Needlestick Injuries in Healthcare Workers Still Occurring, Says U.K. HPA

The latest U.K. Health Protection Agency report on the occupational exposure of healthcare workers (HCWs) to bloodborne viruses (BBVs) shows that nine healthcare workers were infected with hepatitis C through needlestick injuries over the last six years, with seven reported between July 2003 and June 2004.

Between 1996 and 2004, 2140 incidents of significant occupational exposure to BBVs were reported to the Agency; 47 percent (997/2140) of these HCWs were exposed to hepatitis C and 26 percent (551/2140) to HIV. These figures, gathered through the agency's monitoring program, which looks at exposures to BBVs in healthcare settings, indicate that there are still too many exposures occurring. Although more than half of the injuries looked at occurred during the procedure, omore than one-third were after the procedure and during disposal of clinical waste, including exposures sustained while recapping needles or clearing clinical waste left by another worker.

Dr. Fortune Ncube from the U.K Health Protection Agency said, The fact that preventable exposures are still occurring highlights the continued need to ensure that correct procedures are followed in the handling of sharps and in the disposal of clinical waste. Although the last case of a HCW occupationally contracting HIV was in 1999, it is vital that healthcare workers are aware of the importance of immediately reporting incidences following injury. Appropriate referral, testing and prompt treatment are also very important and can prevent the onset of infection and the need for specialist aftercare. It is also vital that healthcare workers infected through an occupational exposure are aware of the treatment options now available to them. Employers should support frontline staff and ensure that safety information and appropriate facilities for a safe working environment are available.

This report also recommends improvements in surveillance techniques, to ensure that the guidelines to reduce exposure incidents are as effective as possible. Our current methods of surveillance have worked well in identifying and dealing with incidents of exposure, but we need to identify further ways of gathering information. As well as encouraging better data collection of incidents, we have recommended that the agency, alongside partners such as the Department of Health, looks at establishing a sentinel surveillance system to support existing work. This would allow for more detailed examination of the risks facing healthcare workers, and would lead to a greater understanding of the factors involved in occupational exposures to bloodborne viruses, helping us develop more targeted and appropriate prevention measures.

At present, information on follow-up testing of healthcare workers exposed to bloodborne viruses is also incomplete. It is essential that HCWs are properly tested and followed up to ensure that they have not been infected with a BBV through their occupational exposure.

Source: U.K. Health Protection Agency

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