Date: June 30, 2016

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Needle Stick Injuries

This page was reviewed or revised on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 9:03 AM

Needle stick injuries... the risks and the preventions

Each year it is estimated that several million syringes are used in homes by Canadians for either health care purposes or for injection drug use. The proper disposal of these syringes is most important to protect others from injury and to preserve the environment.

Used syringes that are disposed of improperly may injure people who come in contact with them. For example, a loose syringe in a garbage bag may cause a needle stick injury to an individual who handles the bag. Syringes flushed down the sewer system may end up on a beach or shores. Children who find these syringes are at great risk of hurting themselves. They may not realize the consequences of a needle stick and fail to tell an adult of the injury. Any time a person receives a needle stick injury there is a risk of some very serious diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.

Proper disposal of needles and syringes

BE CAREFUL! Children must be taught to never touch a needle or syringe. If they find one, have them tell an adult right away. If you find a discarded needle, follow these important steps to prevent needle stick injury. If you do not feel comfortable handling the syringe, contact either the police, the public works department or the Lambton Public Health for assistance.

  • Wear heavy glove or use a thick cloth or tongs to pick up the syringe. NEVER use your hands.
  • Hold the needle tip away from you. Be careful not to pick yourself. Do not attempt to put a cap back on.
  • Put the needle in a puncture proof plastic container (e.g. peanut butter jar, bleach bottle, motor oil bottle, or shampoo bottle).
  • Place the puncture proof container in with the regular garbage for disposal - not in the recycle box.

Potential health risks associated with a needle stick injury

With improperly disposed of needles comes the risk of disease. Infections such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C, as well as tetanus may be transmitted through a needle stick injury. Even though the risk is relatively low, the potential for contracting these life-threatening illnesses is very real.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) does not live for very long outside the body. Therefore, there is less that a one percent chance of getting HIV/AIDS from the needle stick. However, the Hepatitis B virus can survive for up to six months outside the body on a used needle, increasing the risk to thirty percent if someone is pricked by that needle. The chance drops to about four percent with Hepatitis C.

Tetanus (lock-jaw) occurs when a wound is contaminated with tetanus spores. A dirty, rusty needle can transmit those spores to a human causing spasms and contractions of muscles sometimes referred to as lock-jaw. Fortunately, most people are vaccinated against Tetanus and a vaccine against Hepatitis B is also available.

Oh Oh! You've been stuck - NOW WHAT?

No matter how careful one may be, accidents happen. It is extremely important to tell someone immediately such as a parent, your family doctor, the emergency department or Lambton Public Health. There are steps that can be taken to lessen the risk of these diseases, but the time frame for intervention is limited. The sooner medical treatment is started, the better your chances are of preventing illness.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C. The Hepatitis B vaccine will reduce the risk of Hepatitis B infection from needle stick. Along with the health concerns comes the stress and anxiety of not knowing whether you have been infected or not.

For further information on the handling and disposal of used needles or syringes contact Lambton Public Health.