International Health Care Worker Safety Center (University of
Virginia) estimates more than 1 million accidental needle sticks
occur per year. Higher rates have been reported by the Centers for
Disease Control and medical journals.
Although nearly invisible to the public, this epidemic of accidental
needle sticks is infecting thousands of American medical workers
with potentially lethal diseases. It has reached a crisis stage, as
each day medical workers suffer some 2,400 accidental sticks.
Most of those sticks could be prevented with safety needles. Yet
only 5 to 10% of the syringes used by medical workers have the
safety features ordered six years ago by the federal Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), OSHA says. The Centers for
Disease Control believe safety needles could cut accidental needle
sticks by 76%.
Here's a look at how a needle stick can cause infection, and three
major diseases transmitted through needle sticks. Information has
been culled from an April 1998 report by the San Francisco
(also known as the AIDS virus)
- Affected: Up to 60 healthcare workers a year contract the virus
from needle sticks, according to the International Health Care
Worker Safety Center.
- Effects: The virus attacks the immune system, allowing development
of diseases such as pneumonia and cancer.
- Prevention: The virus has been considered fatal. However, new
drugs have allowed many people infected to live with the virus.
There is no vaccine to prevent infection.
- Affected: Up to 12,000 workers every year were contracting the
virus in the 1980s say the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and medical
researchers. As many as 300 of those died from it each year say the
organizations. Cases have fallen to 1,000 per year according to the
CDC and OSHA, following widespread availability of a vaccine.
- Effects: It attacks the liver, causing jaundice, fatigue,
abdominal and joint pain, fever, and rashes. Chronic hepatitus can
lead to liver cancer, cirrhosis, coma, and death.
- Prevention: A three-shot vaccine has been extremely effective in
preventing the infection.
- Affected: The virus infects at least 1,000 healthcare workers per
year; however, because cases have been poorly documented, the actual
number may be significantly higher. Most experts estimate the
numbers to be in the thousands each year.
- Effects: Its symptoms are similar to those of Hepatitis B, but
Hepatitis C is far more serious with much higher incidences of fatal
liver disease reported.
- Prevention: No vaccine exists to prevent the infection.
More than 20 other infections
can also be transmitted through needle sticks, including: Syphillis,
malaria, tuberculosis, streptoccal and staphyloccal sepsis, Rocky
Mountain Spotted Fever, herpes, hepatitis D and G, babesiosis,
brucellosis, leptospirosis, arboviral infections, relapsing fever,
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, human T-lymphotropic virus Type 1, and
viral fevers caused by Ebola.