Bid to reduce risk of needle-stick injuries - 17/9/2004

From the TIMES

Bid to reduce risk of needle-stick injuries
Cynthia Busuttil

Any medical professional using needles is at risk of getting injured and, according to Health First Europe, a European alliance of patients, healthcare workers, academics and experts, it is estimated that one million needle-stick injuries take place in Europe annually.

Between 60 - 80 per cent of such injuries go unreported, the alliance said, thus increasing the risk of cross infection to patients.

The medical stakeholders platform said more than 20 dangerous pathogens could be transmitted by contaminated needles, which include Hepatitis B and C as well as HIV. "These injuries are preventable," it said.

According to Maya Parikh, from Health First Europe, it seems that Malta is not among the "small number" of EU member states which are actively engaged in the elimination of sharps' injuries.

The organisation said that although staff were not necessarily infected in every injury, the risk of transmission was one in three workers for Hepatitis B, one in 30 workers for Hepatitis C and one in 300 workers for HIV.

"Even if not ultimately acquiring a seriously debilitating or fatal disease, the psychological impact of a needle-stick injury can be very significant," it said.

Although Health First Europe does not consider Malta as one of the countries actively engaged in eliminating this type of injury, educational initiatives have been organised locally for the past few years. Contacted by The Times, Infection Control Unit consultant Michael Borg said that in a bid to cut such risks the unit held various education initiatives to raise awareness of the proper work practices and avoid injuries.

Most at risk are medical professionals who have just graduated. Dr Borg explained that when a person has just started working, he is more likely to be nervous and therefore more prone to get injured.

Apart from issuing leaflets, organising lectures for students and in-house training, the unit also offers a 24-hour service for professionals injured by a needle. Dr Borg said they are offered assessment as well as preventive treatment since there are a number of diseases that have a higher chance of being cured if they are recognised early.

Health First Europe said studies showed that solutions which were available today could prevent more than 80 per cent of needle-stick injuries through a combination of training, safer working practices and the use of medical devices incorporating needle-stick protection technology.

A number of key recommendations, including eliminating the use of needles where safe and effective alternatives are available, were made by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

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