Needle Stick Injuries

What are needle stick injuries?

  • Needle stick injuries are wounds made by a sudden prick from sharp pointed objects such as needles. These injuries make a small puncture (hole) on the skin. They usually happen on the finger, but may also happen on the hand, arm, or foot. They may cause bleeding, pain, and swelling on the wound site. Needle stick injuries usually happen to healthcare workers in hospitals, clinics, and labs. They may also happen at home or in the community, where needles not properly disposed of.

  • Needles are used to draw blood and other body fluids, or are used to give medicines. Used needles may be clean or may be dirty. A dirty needle may contain blood that carries germs which may cause disease or infection. It may have been used on people with hepatitis (swelling of the liver) or HIV infection. These diseases may be spread to anyone who gets pricked by the dirty needle.

What may cause needle stick injuries?

Needle stick injuries almost always happen by accident. Not properly discarding (throwing away) used needles may cause injury to you or to someone else. Not using gloves to protect the hands while working may also cause injury when pricked by sharp objects. Used or unused needles and other pointed sharp objects must be kept safely away from children at home. Most of their injuries happen when they step on or play with used needles or sharp pointed objects.

Who are at risk of having needle stick injuries?

Anyone is at risk for needle stick injuries. They may especially happen to:

  • Children with relatives or neighbors using needles.

  • Cleaners of public toilets, parks, trains, and cinema seats.

  • Health caregivers who use needles most of the time while working.

  • People who share needles for use with illegal drugs.

  • Police and security officers especially while searching suspects or their property.

How are needle stick injuries diagnosed?

Your caregiver may ask several questions regarding the injury. It would be important to give the date and the time the injury happened. He may ask the type and amount of fluid or material the needle was exposed to. Your caregiver would also want to know who used the needle and if the user has infections. He may also ask if you have had a vaccine against certain infections before.

  • Blood tests: You may need to have blood taken for tests. The blood can be taken from a blood vessel in your hand, arm, or the bend in your elbow. It can give your caregivers more information about your health condition. You may need to have blood drawn more than once.

How are needle stick injuries treated?

Treatment includes washing the wound with soap and water. You may be given any of the following medicines:

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.

  • Antiviral medicines: Antiviral medicine may be given to fight an infection caused by a germ called a virus. One or more antiviral medicines may be given to prevent hepatitis or HIV infection. These medicines may have unpleasant effects. If you are a woman, tell your caregiver if you know or think you might be pregnant.

  • Immune globulins: This medicine is given as a shot or an IV infusion to make your immune system stronger. You may need immune globulins to treat or prevent an infection. It is also used when you have a chronic condition, such as lupus or arthritis. You may need many weeks of treatment. Each infusion can take from 2 to 5 hours.

  • Over-the-counter pain medicine: You may use over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, for pain or swelling. These medicines may be bought without a caregiver's order. These medicines are safe for most people to use. However, they can cause serious problems when they are not used correctly. People with certain medical conditions, or using certain other medicines are at a higher risk for problems. Using too much, or using these medicines for longer than the label says can also cause problems. Follow directions on the label carefully. If you have questions, talk to your caregiver.

  • Td vaccine: This vaccine is a booster shot used to help prevent diphtheria and tetanus. The Td booster may be given to adolescents and adults every 10 years or for certain wounds and injuries.

How can needle stick injuries be prevented?

The following may prevent needle stick injuries and possible complications in the future:

  • At work:

    • Always use gloves when handling needles that are exposed to blood or other body fluids.

    • Do not put the cap back on a needle, bend or break a needle by hand, or use a cutting device.

    • Get a vaccination against certain diseases, such as hepatitis, for protection.

    • Learn the right way to handle and throw away needles, scalpels, and other sharp objects.

    • Put all sharp objects in a holder marked just for sharp objects. A puncture-proof, closed container with a lid may be used to contain needles. The containers are placed in areas where needles are used. It should be replaced before it becomes overfilled.

  • In the home and community:

    • Frequent cleaning of parks and schoolyards.

    • Educate young children about the dangers of handling or playing with needles and syringes. Teach them not to touch needles and to report found needles to an adult for disposal.

    • Having community programs about addiction treatment and needle exchange programs for injection drug users may be of help.

    • Prevent the spread of HIV infection and hepatitis by giving vaccines. Ask caregivers or visit them for the vaccines that you may need.

Where can I get support and more information?

Having a needle stick injury may cause only a small wound in the skin but its long term effect may be worse. You may get hepatitis or HIV infection later on. Having these infections may make it hard for you and your family. Contact any of the following for more information:

  • CDC National Prevention Information Network
    PO Box 6003
    Rockville , MD 20849-6003
    Phone: 1- 800 - 4585231
    Web Address: http://www.cdcnpin.org
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    1600 Clifton Road
    Atlanta , GA 30333
    Phone: 1- 800 - 232-4636
    Web Address: http://www.cdc.gov/

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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