surgeons at risk of sharps injuries

Injuries from needles and sharp objects top the list of occupational hazards for surgeons, according to researchers from the University of Michigan Health System. These injuries could expose surgeons to infectious diseases.

Nearly 400,000 sharps injuries occur each year in the United States. About 25 percent of injured workers are surgeons, who face the highest risks in the operating room. According to researchers, nearly all surgeons will sustain a sharps injury sometime during their career. Medical students and residents are also at high risk, as fatigue and inexperience are important risk factors.

“Despite health care policies designed to protect health care workers, injuries remain common,” American Society of Plastic Surgeon (ASPS) Member Surgeon Dr. Kevin C. Chung and colleagues wrote in their report. They recommended increased awareness, reporting and prevention.

A Sharp Risk

Sharps injuries, which require testing and treatment, can have a major economic impact. Average costs for testing, follow-up and preventive treatment range from $375 for needlestick exposure from a patient with no known blood-borne illness, up to nearly $2,500 for injuries from a patient with known HIV.

While HIV is the most-feared result of a sharps injury, the risk of infection with hepatitis B virus actually is much higher. Sharps injuries also can have a significant psychological impact on the injured person and his or her family – particularly during the time needed to confirm that the injured worker is free of infection, which may take several weeks or months.

Once an injury occurs, there are standardized guidelines for post-exposure prevention, depending on whether the patient has any known transmissible infections. Recommendations include antiviral medications for health care workers exposed to HIV and hepatitis B or C virus – ideally starting within hours after the injury.

Sticking Point: Surgeons Face Injury Risk from Needles, Sharp Objects
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