Needlestick Injury

Accidental puncture of the skin by a used hypodermic needle

  • Working in health centres and visiting public leisure areas are risk factors
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

Although a minor skin puncture with a used hypodermic needle may cause little pain or bleeding, a needlestick injury may have particularly serious implications for your health. Any needlestick injury needs to be investigated because of the risk that the needle carries organisms such as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (see HIV infection and AIDS), or the hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses (see Acute hepatitis).

Needlestick injuries may occasionally occur among hospital staff. People who visit public areas, such as parks or beaches, may be at risk from needles discarded by intravenous drug abusers.

If you have a needlestick injury, you should wash the wound using soap and water and consult a doctor as soon as you can. If possible, take the needle with you because your doctor may be able to check for the presence of viruses in the blood remaining in the needle.

You may need to have blood tests to find out if you have had previous exposure to hepatitis B or C; if you are already immune to hepatitis B; or if you are HIV-positive. If a course of immunization is started immediately, hepatitis B can usually be prevented. Your doctor may also suggest treatment with antiviral drugs to reduce the chance of HIV infection (see Drugs for HIV infection and AIDS). Blood tests for hepatitis B and C and HIV are usually done again after 3 months, and may be repeated at 3-month intervals for up to 12 months. The tests will determine whether you are clear of infection.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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