EDITOR’S NOTE: This month’s KCQ first appeared in October 2010 and since that time has been one of our website’s most-read articles, generating nearly 35,000-plus page views. Enjoy it again this month!
While placing a central line, you sustain a needlestick. You’ve washed the area thoroughly with soap and water, but you are concerned about contracting a bloodborne pathogen. What is the risk of contracting such a pathogen, and what can be done to reduce this risk?
Needlestick injuries are a common occupational hazard in the hospital setting. According to the International Health Care Worker Safety Center, approximately 295,000 hospital-based healthcare workers experience occupational percutaneous injuries annually. In 1991, Mangione and colleagues surveyed internal medicine house staff and found an annual incidence of 674 needlestick injuries per 1,000 participants.1 Other retrospective data estimate this risk to be as high as 839 per 1,000 healthcare workers annually.2 Evidence from the CDC in 2004 suggests that because these numbers represent only self-reported injuries, the annual incidence of such injuries is much higher than the current estimates suggest.2,3,4
More than 20 bloodborne pathogens (see Table 1) might be transmitted from contaminated needles or sharps, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV). A quick and appropriate response to a needlestick injury can greatly decrease the risk of disease transmission following an occupational exposure to potentially infectious materials.
Review of the Data
After any needlestick injury, an affected healthcare worker should wash the area with soap and water immediately. There is no contraindication to using antiseptic solutions, but there is also no evidence to suggest that this reduces the rates of disease transmission.
Because decisions for post-exposure prophylaxis often need to be made within hours, a healthcare worker should seek care in the facility areas responsible for managing occupational exposures. Healthcare providers should be encouraged and supported in reporting all sharps-related injuries to such departments.
The source patient should be identified and evaluated for potentially transmissible diseases, including HIV, HBV, and HCV. If indicated, the source patient should then undergo appropriate serological testing, and any indicated antiviral prophylaxis should be initiated (see Table 2).
Risk of Seroconversion
For all bloodborne pathogens, a needlestick injury carries a greater risk for transmission than other occupational exposures (e.g. mucous membrane exposure). If a needlestick injury occurs in the setting of an infected patient source, the risk of disease transmission varies for HIV, HBV, and HCV (see Table 3). In general, risk for seroconversion is increased with a deep injury, an injury with a device visibly contaminated with the source patient’s blood, or an injury involving a needle placed in the source patient’s artery or vein.3,5,6
Human immunodeficiency virus. Contracting HIV after needlestick injury is rare. From 1981 to 2006, the CDC documented only 57 cases of HIV/AIDS in healthcare workers following occupational exposure and identified an additional “possible” 140 cases post-exposure.5,6 Of the 57 documented cases, 48 sustained a percutaneous injury.