Preventing Needlestick and Sharps Injuries in the Healthcare Industry
What risks do these types of injuries present for healthcare workers, and what can be done to keep workers safe?
In healthcare settings, the safety and well-being of healthcare workers are paramount. One overlooked area of concern is the occurrence of needlestick and sharps injuries. These incidents, often a consequence of mishandling medical waste, pose a significant health risk to healthcare professionals. This comprehensive guide aims to provide a thorough understanding of needlestick and sharps injuries, their implications, and practical steps for their prevention.
Understanding Needlestick and Sharps Injuries
A needlestick injury is a percutaneous piercing wound typically caused by a needlepoint, resulting in exposure to potentially harmful body fluids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Such injuries often occur during the use, disassembly, or disposal of needles.
Sharps injuries are similar to needlestick injuries, but they involve any sharp medical instrument, including scalpels, lancets, and broken glass or capillary tubes. Sharps injuries occur most often during instrument passing, cleaning, or disposal processes, per the CDC.
Needlestick and sharps injuries often occur during high-stress situations, such as emergency medical procedures. Other common scenarios include mishandling sharps waste, hurried movements, inadequate staff training, and neglecting the usage of PPE.
Risks and Consequences of Needlestick and Sharps Injuries
Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens. Healthcare workers exposed to needlestick and sharps injuries are at a high risk of contracting bloodborne pathogens such as:
- Hepatitis B virus (HBV). This highly infectious virus affects the liver, causing acute and chronic disease.
- Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Like HBV, HCV also affects the liver, leading to life-threatening conditions such as liver cancer and cirrhosis.
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): Although the risk is low, it’s still possible to contract HIV through needlestick and sharps injuries.
Psychological and Emotional Impact on Healthcare Workers. The occurrence of a needlestick or sharps injury can lead to significant psychological stress. This stress, along with the fear of potential infection, can greatly affect healthcare workers’ mental health and job performance.
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