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What Nurses Need to Know About Needle Sticks

Higher Education Articles August 2, 2013

The prevalence of needle stick injuries has dropped tremendously, but it is by no means a thing of the past. Doctors’ offices, hospitals and other facilities still need to improve their implementation of measures to protect nurses’ safety from the dangers of sharps.

The Dangers of Needle sticks

The minor annoyance of the actual poke is not the reason health care professionals need to worry about in a needle stick. The actual danger is in the blood that is on the needle. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a stick from a needle contaminated with hepatitis B has up to a forty percent chance of transmitting the disease. Hepatitis A has up to a ten percent chance of transmission. Finally, a nurse stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle has a 1 in 300 chance of contracting the virus.

The danger of disease transmission cannot be overemphasized. In fact, a report by The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing states that up to two thirds of hepatitis B and C infections affecting health care professionals were contracted via a needle stick in Mediterranean areas. For hepatitis B, the same is also true in South and Central America. This shows how rampant disease transmission can be in the absence of an effective and extensive sharps safety program.

Other Dangerous Sharps

While hollow-bore needles like those used in syringes and IVs make up the bulk of injury-causing sharps, they certainly aren’t the only culprits. Solid needles like those used for sutures, as well as non-needle instruments like scalpels and lancets are also dangerous. Like hollow-bore needles, the poke or cut isn’t the most dangerous aspect. Instead, it’s the fact that these things are often contaminated with diseased blood. Therefore, it is essential that a nurses’ safety program does not overlook the dangers of these implements.

Preventing Needle stick Injuries

Education

One of the most basic aspects of an injury prevention program is education. Hospitals and other facilities should be sure to give their nurses and other staff members a course in how to properly handle all sharps. This may have been covered in nursing school, but a refresher is always a good idea. Not only that, some of the nursing staff may have graduated quite some time ago. Facility-provided training will bring everyone up to speed on new developments.

Precautions

There are many precautions that can be taken to prevent needle stick injuries. Some of these are quite simple changes to procedures or the layout of medical facilities. One example is eliminating the process of recapping needles. Instead, a sharps container should always be within arm’s reach of where the needles are used. Then, the needles can be transferred directly to the container without the surprisingly tricky recapping maneuver.

Using new, safer varieties of needles and other sharps is another great way to reduce the risk of being stuck. These include lancets that retract into a container immediately after use, IV access devices that do not use needles, needles that are automatically blunted or sheathed by the device rather than the operator, needle-less injection devices and other such instruments. Eliminating the sharp altogether, when possible, is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health‘s top suggestion.

What to do if you’ve been stuck with a Needle or Other Sharp

It has been found that nurses are reluctant to report needle sticks when they believe they have a low risk of contracting an infection. This, however, is not the safe way to go about things. A patient may have an undiagnosed infection, so it’s important to go through the process of blood testing both nurse and patient to ensure that it’s truly safe to skip further procedures.

In any case, the first step is to cleanse the wound. A wash with soap and water is sufficient. If it turns out that the patient had an infection like hepatitis or HIV, appropriate prophylaxis should be done immediately.

By doing everything possible to minimize the risks of needle stick injuries and reacting promptly when they do happen, the risk of catching a blood-borne disease is greatly minimized. Reporting needle sticks can be onerous, but the effects of an illness are far more so. Be sure to follow all procedures and be careful at all times.

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