04/04/2013 10:20 am ET

'Sharps' Injuries Could Pose HIV, Hepatitis Risk To Surgeons

All those sharp medical instruments and needles used during surgery can pose a health hazard to surgeons, according to a new study in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

There are nearly 400,000 injuries from these instruments, called "sharps" injuries, each year, and 25 percent of people injured by these instruments are surgeons, according to the article. The health risks are largely from potential spread of communicable diseases, such as HIV or hepatitis B.

The most common injuries of this type are from syringe needles, making up 36 percent of "sharps" injuries. Suture needle injuries are the second most common, making up 18.5 percent. Researchers found that fatigue and inexperience are huge risk factors for experiencing a "sharps" injury.

The cost for immediate testing for these diseases after a "sharps" injury is high, and can range from hundreds of dollars to thousands. If a patient is not known to have any sort of blood-borne disease, the cost for testing, follow-up and treatment after a "sharps" injury can be as much as $376. But if the patient has HIV, that cost can go up to $2,456.

And beyond the financial, mental burdens -- such as anxiety, fear and even depression -- can follow people who have experienced a "sharps" injury.

"Physicians and nurses frequently report feeling anger regarding their exposure, and resentment regarding the risks of working in health care for up to one year after the injury," the University of Michigan Health System researchers wrote in the study.

Because of the potential risks from "sharps" injuries, legislation was passed in 2000 in an effort to try to reduce such injuries. The Needlestick Safety & Prevention Act of 2000 involved maintaining injury logs, training employees properly, putting controls in place for disposal or use of needles, and using safer medical devices.

However, a 2010 study in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons showed that even though "sharps" injuries in nonsurgical settings decreased by 31.6 percent after the passing of the act, surgical-setting "sharps" injuries increased by 6.5 percent.

"Hospitals should comply with requirements for the adoption of safer surgical technologies, and promote policies and practices shown to substantially reduce blood exposures to surgeons, their coworkers, and patients," those researchers, from the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center, wrote in the study.


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