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Needle Stick Injuries

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about needle stick injuries?

Needle stick injuries usually happen to healthcare workers in hospitals, clinics, and labs. Needle stick injuries can also happen at home or in the community if needles are not discarded properly. Used needles may have blood or body fluids that carry HIV, the hepatitis B virus (HBV), or the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus can spread to a person who gets pricked by a needle used on an infected person.

How do needle stick injuries occur?

Needle stick injuries usually happen by accident. Needles may cause injury to you or to someone else if they were not properly discarded after use. An injury can also occur if you do not use gloves to protect your hands while you work with needles.

What should I do if I have a needle stick injury?

  • Clean the area immediately. Wash the wound with soap and water.
  • Contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Your provider will ask you when the injury happened. Tell provider about the type and amount of blood or fluid the needle was exposed to. The provider will also want to know if the needle was used on a person who has an infection. Tell your provider if you have had any vaccines. You will also need blood tests.

How are needle stick injuries treated?

Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) may be needed. PEP is treatment that may protect a person from infection after exposure to another person's body fluids. PEP may be needed if the person whose fluids you were exposed to has a known infection. Do not donate blood, organs, tissues, or semen until your follow-up is completed at 6 months.

  • PEP for HBV may include HBV vaccinations or medicine to prevent HBV. This treatment works best if started within 24 hours of exposure.
  • PEP for HIV may include 2 or 3 types of medicine to prevent HIV. This treatment works best if started within 72 hours of exposure. Continue treatment for 4 weeks. Practice safe sex to prevent spreading HIV and to prevent pregnancy during the follow-up period. If you are breastfeeding, your healthcare provider may recommend that you stop. Ask your healthcare provider if you can breastfeed.
  • PEP for HCV is not available. You will need to be tested for HCV and treated if you were infected.
  • A Td vaccine is a booster shot used to help prevent diphtheria and tetanus. The Td booster may be given to adolescents and adults for certain wounds and injuries.

When should I follow up with my healthcare provider?

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed. You will need more blood tests. You will also need to make sure your medicines are working. PEP for HIV often causes side effects. Talk with your provider about your symptoms. Your provider will need to make sure you are taking the medicine correctly. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

What can I do to prevent needle stick injuries?

  • Always use gloves when you handle needles that are exposed to blood or other body fluids. You may want to use 2 pairs of gloves for extra protection.
  • Do not recap needles after use. Recapping needles increases your risk for a needle stick.
  • Throw away needles in a safe container. A hard container with a lid may prevent accidental needle sticks.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.