The risk of sharps injuries

Don’t become complacent about the risk of a sharps injury, warns CSP professional adviser Carley King.

The exposure to bloodborne viruses such as HIV can be either through a percutaneous injury to skin (such as a sharps injury from a needle) or a mucocutaneous injury (where the mucous membrane of a healthcare worker is contaminated with blood or bodily fluid).
Physiotherapy staff  are not at high risk from this type of injury – indeed, allied health professionals (AHPs) report just eight per cent of these injuries. However, an awarness of the risks is vital. 
While physiotherapists trained in acupuncture and injection therapy are at risk of sustaining a sharps injury, it is important to recognise that bloodborne viruses can also be transmitted by a mucocutaneous injury. 
These are when the mucous membranes (mouth, nose, eyes), or cuts and abrasions on the skin become contaminated with blood or other body fluid. 
Although such exposures carry a lower risk of bloodborne virus infection, they can be a more common risk to physiotherapy staff. They are the second most common mechanism of exposure among AHPs after percutaneous injuries with a hollowbore needle.
Certain common physiotherapy procedures, such as suctioning and tracheostomy care, carry a risk of mucocutaneous injury. It is vital you wear protective equipment, such as goggles or face shields, during these procedures. 
Public Health England launched a report on healthcare workers’ risk of exposure to bloodborne viruses, titled Bloodborne viruses: Eye of the needle, last December.  
In every work setting, you should familiarise yourself with your local policy for any procedures carrying a higher risk of exposure, and what to do if you sustain an injury.  
More information
See here for a copy of the Public Health England report and search for ‘eye needle’

Carley King is a CSP professional adviser

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