Sharp truth: health care workers remain at risk of bloodborne infection

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Abstract

Background

In 2013, new regulations for the prevention of sharps injuries were introduced in the UK. All health care employers are required to provide the safest possible working environment by preventing or controlling the risk of sharps injuries.

Aims

To analyse data on significant occupational sharps injuries among health care workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland before the introduction of the 2013 regulations and to assess bloodborne virus seroconversions among health care workers sustaining a blood or body fluid exposure.

Methods

Analysis of 10 years of information on percutaneous and mucocutaneous exposures to blood or other body fluids from source patients infected with a bloodborne virus, collected in England, Wales and Northern Ireland through routine surveillance of health care workers reported for the period 2002–11.

Results

A total of 2947 sharps injuries involving a source patient infected with a bloodborne virus were reported by health care workers. Significant sharps injuries were 67% higher in 2011 compared with 2002. Sharps injuries involving an HIV-, hepatitis B virus- or hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected source patient increased by 107, 69 and 60%, respectively, between 2002 and 2011. During the study period, 14 health care workers acquired HCV following a sharps injury.

Conclusions

Our data show that during a 10-year period prior to the introduction of new regulations in 2013, health care workers were at risk of occupationally acquired bloodborne virus infection. To prevent sharps injuries, health care service employers should adopt safety-engineered devices, institute safe systems of work and promote adherence to standard infection control procedures.

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